In 2003, musician and anarchist activist Sherman Austin was sentenced to 12 months in jail for posting content on his website that could potentially inspire terrorist attacks. Many believe he was a wrongfully targeted political prisoner, among them Zack de la Rocha. The MC spoke on the case at a benefit show that took place just a few days before Austin pleaded guilty to avoid a Patriot Act clause that would enforce a 20-year minimum sentence.
Zack de la Rocha – On the Case of Sherman Austin
"It began nearly two years ago, January 24th 2002 to be exact, it was four in the afternoon. Sherman Austin was asleep. Seemed like a normal day until reason was suddenly stripped from reality. Twenty five fully armed special agents surrounded Sherman’s house. Two of the agents met him at the door, showed him a warrant, and drag him outside.
With shotguns and machine guns they entered his house and went straight to his room.
Once inside they began ripping through his belongings, seizing his books, his political posters, and finally dismantling his computer, which was taken immediately to federal trucks that were parked outside and had all his information downloaded to government servers and were confiscated, and then they left. His room torn apart and the life of his friends and his family turned upside down.
They left and he was charged with nothing.
It began almost two years ago but it was just the beginning.
A month later in February after his home was raided Sherman drove three thousand miles to New York to participate in a peaceful demonstration against the policies of the World Bank and the IMF. Standing in Columbus circle as the march was beginning he was again rushed, this time by twenty police officers and arrested. He was jailed and interrogated without the presence of a lawyer for thirty hours. While inside he was asked over and over again if he was a terrorist, and if he belonged to terrorist organisations.
He was released without being charged.
It was almost two years ago, but it was just the beginning.
While waiting for a ride thirty minutes after he was arrested without charge, thinking the worst was over; in the same court house where he was arrested and released, he was surrounded again. This time by six FBI agents and arrested. He was grabbed by his neck, thrown into a black SUV and taken to a federal building where he was placed in a maximum security jail and held for eleven days. He was then taken out of prison in New York and taken to Oklahoma, in a Federal jail for two more days.
At this point you might be asking what was his crime? Was he a murderer? Did he kill anybody? Or was it that he was a young black anarchist and an activist who refused to be silent.
The website that the government has attempted to shut down is called Raise The Fist .com
It was a website that Sherman ran from his bedroom. It posted information about all kinds of topics, covered all kinds of issues dealing with everything from challenging racism and police brutality to giving a voice to those engaged in a movement to challenge corporate globalisation. The site, raisethefist.com
One word, also functioned as a host server, providing links to the sites of others. One of those sites, not authored by Sherman, contained information about explosives. Yet it was Sherman after two years of harassment, upending the life of his family, who was finally charged with distribution of material related to explosives with the intent to use them. He was charged and sentenced for a year in Federal penitentiary for having a link to a site, who he himself did not author or personally endorse containing information that can be found anywhere. I mean anywhere. It can be found in libraries, it can be found in bookstores, it can be found on internet book distributors, you can find it on amazon.com
In fact, several years ago I found a little cartoon that I found interesting. The first Rage Against The Machine t-shirt that was ever put out had a cartoon with instructions in Spanish on how to make a Molotov cocktail.
Looking back it was somewhat of a silly provocation but the interesting thing about it was that it was authored by the CIA. These cartoons were used in the training of an unconstitutional illegal terrorist army known as the ‘Contras’ who are responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people, tens of thousands of innocent Nicaraguan civilians, as the US government in violation of the highest forms of international law attempted to seize control of the resources of a sovereign country, a country by the way which may never recover from the destruction imposed upon it.
I mention this only as a glaring example of the level of hypocrisy that not only runs right through Sherman’s case but is also weaving its way into the fabric of our everyday lives.
It’s an example of this vicious and repressive political climate set in to motion by the Bush administration in the aftermath of September 11th. A climate in which the right wing violence of the state, for example the illegal and unjust bombing and occupation of Iraq is sanctioned in the name of building democracy while simultaneously they destroy it right here. It is in this climate where blind obedience and buying things are equated with patriotism. When being Muslim is to be considered being a suspect, and being a young black free thinking, rebellious, righteous anarchist, is equated with being a violent criminal.
All of this of course doesn’t speak to the unjust suffering imposed upon this family. The fear, the harassment, the humiliation, the intimidation, the longing and the loss, the pain by which I’m sure that no words can describe, but it brings up one of the reasons that brought us here, to give our support, our love, our solidarity. To help give them the strength and the courage to continue to fight and bring some justice home for Sherman.
The second and equally important reason is to let this fucking government know that they are not going to silence Sherman and keep his case in isolation. The government’s case against him is so weak that they thought they could railroad him so long as it was kept from public view. Well the fact that we’re here tonight is proof that they have failed.
Word travels fast, and with some diligence and some struggle, justice can’t be far behind.
(Sherman Austin was released one month early in July 2004 with 3 years of probation which prohibited him from having access to a computer or knowingly associating with individuals who "espouse violence for political change". Following his release from prison, he released “Silence is Defeat”)