I was visiting Duke University earlier this week and picked up a poster for a January 12 rally to celebrate the birthdays this month of several "political prisoners" who are called 'freedom fighters" by the rally organizers, the Internationalist Prison Books Collective. A more accurate term would be violent criminals. The venue is a campus bookstore, which apparently remains in business despite its connection to anti-government protests during the alleged reign of a police state.
The five supposed victims of oppression are listed as follows, with some additional information not given on the flyer.
"William Africa, member of the eco-revolutionary group MOVE." He was sentenced in 1980, along with other members of MOVE, to 30-100 years for the third degree murder of a police officer during a 1978 raid on the group's headquarters in Philadelphia. The group rejects reform in favor of revolution. It believes "Marvels of science and technological so-called advancements all stem from the system's greed for money and disrespect for life." MOVE members assume the last name "Africa" to show solidarity. The group started stockpiling illegal weapons, and this is what lead to police action. No MOVE members were killed or wounded in the raid.
"Oscar Rivera, charged with conspiracy for his involvement with the Puerto Rican Independence movement." The part of the movement to which Rivera belonged was the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), a terrorist group linked to more than 100 bombings and five deaths in the 1970s. He was one of the 16 Puerto Ricans offered conditional clemency by President Bill Clinton in 1999, but he refused to renounce the future use of violence and rejected the offer.
"Marie Mason, who is serving over 21 years for actions against genetically modified crop testing." Her actions included doing $1 million worth of damage to a building at Michigan State University where the crop research was being conducted. In all, she admitted to 13 counts of arson and property damage amounting to $4 million, most as a result of attacks on houses under construction. Her appeal for a reduced sentence was denied in early December.
"Herman Bell, a former Black Panther framed for the murder of a cop." Bell left the Panthers to join the Black Liberation Army which was devoted to armed struggle. The group carried out bombings, robberies and prison breaks, and killed 7 police officers in five states. There is no evidence that Bell was "framed" for the ambush murders of two New York City police officers in 1971, for which he was convicted along with four other BLA members.
"Mathew DePalma, an anarchist convicted of possessing Molotov cocktails." He was charged in a plot to bomb the 2008 Republican National Convention. He had posted on MySpace, "I wash my hands of this world. I am not an American, I hardly want to be human at this point. I am an Anarchist. I am my own Island. I will not fear the consequences."
DePalma was not arrested for his blogging, any more than the other four felons were sent to prison for their political views, no matter how twisted. They were convicted for committing violent criminal acts and deserve no more consideration that any of the other arsonists, thieves, and killers who share their cell blocks. The Duke rally may, however, indicate a renewed interest on the militant left with political violence as a response to the resurgence of popular conservatism and the Tea Party.