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Jeremy Hammond and the Quashing of Free Speech

Living in Your American Skin

by TRUDY BOND

As Jeremy Hammond begins his 10 years in prison, several journalists, including Chris Hedges and Vivian Lesnik Weisman, have written thorough columns chronicling the history of Hammond’s work for Anonymous. They have explained the workings of Stratfor, a private security intelligence firm that engages in “monitoring and surveillance of protestors and dissidents” for governmental agencies and corporations. It was Stratfor’s emails that Hammond has acknowledged hacking.

Hedges and Weisman interviewed Hammond during a time when he was allowed to see very few people, and have written of his lengthy pre-trial incarceration, punishment by solitary confinement, the barring of any visits by family and friends, and the 10-year maximum sentence handed down by Judge Loretta Preska. Notably, Judge Preska refused to recuse herself even though her husband and his law firm were among Hammond’s victims.

Hedges described Hammond’s actions as providing “chilling evidence that anti-terrorism laws are being routinely used by the federal government to criminalize nonviolent, democratic dissent and falsely link dissidents to international terrorist organizations.” Hammond himself spoke strongly of his political motivation for leaking Stratfor’s emails at his sentencing hearing last month and of his willingness to take risks that perhaps more of us should consider. He stated:

I have tried everything from voting petitions to peaceful protest and have found that those in power do not want the truth to be exposed. When we speak truth to power we are ignored at best and brutally suppressed at worst. We are confronting a power structure that does not respect its own system of checks and balances, never mind the rights of it’s own citizens or the international community.

Hammond knew whereof he spoke.

In late 2005 the city of Toledo, Ohio was reeling from riots that had occurred two months earlier. The National Socialist Movement, which promotes itself as America’s Nazi Party, had chosen a community in north Toledo for an October march to protest black gangs, which it claimed were harassing white residents in that neighborhood. The rioting set off by the march made the national news, much to the chagrin of Toledo politicians and police.

At a court hearing on December 9th of that year, City of Toledo lawyers convinced Judge Thomas Osowick to grant an injunction limiting the assembly of the same National Socialist Movement, which planned a return trip to Toledo the following day. But the injunction went much further: it curtailed the right to assemble in protest for everyone in Toledoexcept for a cordoned-off one-block area in downtown Toledo. By its terms, the injunction also specifically targeted the International Socialist Organization and anarchist groups. The spillover effect of the ruling was to strip all persons of their right to free speech and the right to assemble for at least fourteen days.

Sitting in that courtroom, I was astonished as Judge Osowick issued a $25,000 per hour civil fine for each hour the injunction was violated. Political free speech in Toledo was made illegal by a stroke of a pen.

The following day dozens of riot-gear police lined the street closest to the one-block area designated for assembly. A second line of police was on horseback in front of the “designated public area.” A tank-like armored vehicle appeared, air surveillance circled overhead and police snipers watched from nearby rooftops. Twenty-nine people – including three journalists – were attacked, tasered, arrested, imprisoned, and had their First Amendment rights curtailed that day in Toledo.

Among them was Jeremy Hammond, who had driven from Chicago with four compatriots to protest the white supremacists’ message. On their way to the Nazi event Hammond and friends had stopped to participate in leafletting outside a branch library. As they got back in their car they were quickly pulled over by Toledo police, cuffed behind their backs, and made to kneel in the snow until backup arrived. All four were arrested on a trumped-up charge of “violating the injunction” that Judge Osowick had granted the previous day. They were jailed for 48 hours, then released on bail. The City dismissed the charges on April 12 of 2006.

According to Hammond at the time, he saw the Nazis as representing an earlier police state that had developed technologies for the subjugation of “undesirables.” He had come to Toledo to test the proposition that the police would hold the fascists’ rights as superior to the rights of those who opposed fascism. His thesis was correct. Protected by two rows of police in riot gear and on horses, no Nazis were arrested that day. The only victims of the police state were those attempting to rightfully and nonviolently protest the message brought by the fascists.

Even back then, Hammond saw up close the willingness of the courts and the police to collude in the violation of laws, including first amendment rights. The December 2005 police state in Toledo was a dark reflection of the post-9/11 “everything has changed” worldview. Now eight years later, with Hammond sentenced to a decade in prison, that totalitarian mentality tragically continues to dominate our national discourse and priorities.

The title is a reference to Bruce Springsteen’s song 41 Shots.

Trudy Bond resides in Toledo, OH. She can be reached at drtrudybond@gmail.com.