Thursday, March 08, 2007

The mind of Josh Wolf: Anarchism in practice

While looking for another document in my old email file, I stumbled on an exchange on graffiti/tagging that took place on the PROSF bulletin board in October, 2004, during the campaign for District 5 Supervisor. The interesting thing about it is Josh Wolf's defense of this form of vandalism:

When DPW paints over graffiti it is an act of the city exercising its perceived dominance, and anti-authoritarian graf artists see this as an act that demands retaliation...DPW's action is an institutional attack against all graf artists and actually allows fighting tag crews to unite about something and work together to ensure that DPW's clean-up doesn't stay clean for long.

In other words, any city effort to deal with this vandalism is actually a provocation to freedom-loving "artists"! D5 progressive Dave Tornheim also supported the vandals before quickly changing the subject to billboards and wicked corporations:

I'm talking about a much more grievous horror: the corporate graffiti that is virtually everywhere and pollutes our existence constantly, insufferably trying to control and persuade us to believe things that are untrue and convince us to buy things we don't need and live our lives in ways that are unhealthy, devoid of deep meaning, compassion and beauty, by using countless successful marketing gimmicks and tricks: advertisements, bill-boards, etc.

Vandals as anti-corporate freedom fighters! I suggested in response that the city should come down harder on these vandals: "Maybe it's time to up the ante and give the vandals some serious jail time, where Josh and Dave can visit them and bring them some paper and crayons."

Wolf's sarcastic response is instructive about his mind-set:

Maybe Robert's correct. Maybe what we need is to start doling out hard time to petty criminals and activists. The San Francisco economy is in need of revitalization, so maybe we should follow California's lead and jump on the bandwagon in contributing to the state's only growth industry, jails and prisons. Through this redevelopment effort, maybe San Francisco can get rich by jailing its very own leaders. If we just throw all of the activists in jail with long enough sentences, then we'll have a more prosperous city filled with the denizens that your campaign is apparently trying to reach out to. Alcatraz has been a tourist attraction long enough, it's time that we start jailing our activists there and get them out of the streets where they are clogging up the machine that is our society. With Rob Anderson as fuhrer we can embark upon a more sanitized tomorrow.

That is, the graffiti/tagging vandals are "activists," who are "clogging up the machine that is our society," which is a Good Thing. And my campaign for District 5 Supervisor was "apparently trying to reach out to" the "more prosperous" members of the community, a slur that Wolf didn't bother explaining.

Since Wolf is now in jail for withholding evidence from a Grand Jury, we have a lot more data on how the mind of this anarchist works (see his letter below). Note in his letter, published in Fog City Journal, Wolf doesn't emphasize his anarchist political philosophy. Even so, like many US leftists, Wolf is convinced that he's been targeted because of his political beliefs, not simply because he's withholding evidence: 

No, this case is not about a videotape and it's not about justice. This entire matter is about eroding the rights of privacy and those of a free press. It is about identifying civil dissidents and using members of the news media to actively assist in what is essentially an anarchist witch hunt. 

Wolf and his anarchist comrades represent such a threat to the Bush administration that the Justice Department is targeting them!

Even more interesting is how the city's fringe left is aided and abetted by the left-wing of the city's Democratic Party (see below the resolution supporting Wolf by the city's Democratic County Central Committee). It's one thing for Supervisor Mirkarimi to support Wolf's bogus cause. That's not unexpected, since he's a member of the city's fringe-left Green Party. But one would hope that members of the city's Democratic Party would know better, that they would think that possible evidence of who fractured the skull of a city cop would trump Wolf's unconvincing First Amendment argument for withholding such evidence from the authorities.
By Richard Knee
March 1, 2007

A resolution backing wrongfully imprisoned journalist
Josh Wolf and urging enactment of a federal shield law received near-unanimous approval Wednesday night from the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee.

None of the delegates opposed the resolution, though proxies for Senator Dianne Feinstein, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Assemblymember Fiona Ma abstained from voting on the resolution.

Text of Resolution:

WHEREAS Josh Wolf is an independent journalist in the City and County of San Francisco who has become the longest jailed journalist for contempt in United States History and whose incarceration causes great damage to the First Amendment and to freedom of the press in the United States;

AND WHEREAS 31 states including California have shield laws upholding the rights of journalists to protect the secrecy of their sources and unpublished information;

AND WHEREAS Josh Wolf has shown uncommon valor in his principled defense of First Amendment rights, proving through his steadfast commitment that he will not be coerced, and for such actions has been awarded the highest honors of the Society of Professional Journalists;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the San Francisco Democratic Party urges the US Attorney to cease its prosecution of Josh Wolf, requests his immediate release from prison, and urges Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to rescind the subpoena with which he was served;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the San Francisco Democratic Party urges San Francisco's Congressional delegation to support the passage of an inclusive and robust Federal Shield Law that protects independent journalists and does not contain significant loopholes.

Submitted by Robert Haaland, Michael Goldstein, Rafael Mandelman, David Campos, and Jane Morrison.

Copies of the resolution shall be sent to the regional US Attorney, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senators Boxer and Feinstein.

(A Robert Haaland-authored amendment to include online journalists in any shield law legislation was also accepted.)

Letter from jailed journalist Josh Wolf

It was over six months ago that I found myself led out of a courtroom bound in handcuffs and shackles and taken to a Federal Prison in Dublin. As of today I've spent over 168 days in here and given Judge Alsup's recent ruling it doesn't seem likely that I'll be getting out any time soon.

I never thought this would happen. I grew up being taught that the United States was the greatest country on earth. That dissent was not only permitted but encouraged, and that we had a free press that was not encumbered by government interference. This is so longer the case. One night I went to sleep in a free America, but I woke up in a police state. It's hard to say when this transformation transpired. Many would contend that it began shortly after September 11th, some would argue that it wasn't until lies led us into the War in Iraq, and still others would say we started down this road soon after the American Revolution. I'm not sure who is right, but I do know that the process of waking up to this grim reality has been a painful one.

Many have asked me why I've chosen to sacrifice my personal freedom, and there are a multitude of reasons why I have taken the stance that I have. Most pressing is the fact that a free press in a democracy cannot act as an extension of the justice department. This can be summed up nicely with the words of Amy Goodman who recently stated, "We're supposed to be the fourth estate not for the State."

If the U.S. Attorney can compel journalists to testify about what they've learned through their work and to force then to turn over their unpublished materials then not only will the public be unable to trust reporters but journalists themselves will become de facto deputies and investigators---a role few of us want and one that I have refused to accept. This is not a new construct, it is one that dates back to the founding of our country and is one that is guaranteed under the First Amendment of our Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson once stated, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter." And with these words, I must wonder exactly how he'd feel about the people who took to the streets on July 8th, 2005 in protest of a government they feel no longer represents then and how he'd feel about the media that covers their struggle.

The second reason compelling me to refuse to cooperate with the Grand Jury subpoena is that this whole thing is not about what the government would have you believe it to be. This case is not about a videotape, it's not about identifying suspects of a crime and it's not about obtaining justice. If it were, then the U.S. Attorney would not have argued against the judge reviewing my outtakes in his chambers and the U.S. Attorney would have been more receptive to the inquires my defense team made.

No, this case is not about a videotape and it's not about justice. This entire matter is about eroding the rights of privacy and those of a free press. It is about identifying civil dissidents and using members of the news media to actively assist in what is essentially an anarchist witch hunt.

This is what I have suspected from the beginning, but it has been brought closer into focus with the government's recent response to our motion. I will not allow myself to be put in a position of outing anarchists who likely are guilty of nothing more that possessing political beliefs outside the American norm.

How many of the freedoms promised to us in the Bill of Rights are still in fact? How many more liberties will be eroded away? The future is uncertain, but at present the military continues to wage war in Iraq in the name of freedom. I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the tragic irony of it all.

The role of the media is to ask the questions, to point at those inconsistencies, and to demand answers from the powers that be. This is why the media is under attack and this is why it is so urgent that we continue to fight back. Because without a free press we can never be free.

And I'll conclude with the word of Mario Savio that defined the Free Speech Movement sone 40 years ago and still possesses a tremendous vitality today. On December 2, 1964, in the city of Berkeley, Savio stated, "There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part, you can't even tacitly take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all."

Thank you, and I look forward to returning back to San Francisco just as soon as the government comes to its senses and realizes that I will not---that I cannot be coerced.

Thanks again,
Josh Wolf
Dublin Federal Correctional Institution
February 8, 2007

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