Monday, September 5, 2011

'Better This World'

The New York Times has a review of the PBS broadcast out this week, "Better This World."

See: "Film Is Skeptical About Domestic Efforts on Terrorism." The most interesting thing is how the filmmakers and activists they interviewed are determined to delegitimize the word "terrorism."

The film had an Oscar-qualifying theatrical release here last week, but it will reach many more people when it has its television premiere on Tuesday night on “POV,” the PBS documentary series. Simon Kilmurry, the executive director of “POV,” said it was timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“The legacy of 9/11 is something we’re all living with today, and these are some of the issues that I think tend not to get looked at very closely,” Mr. Kilmurry said.

In a pairing of sorts the next “POV,” on Sept. 13, will show “If a Tree Falls,” a documentary about the Earth Liberation Front, a radical environmental group that set fires and was labeled a domestic terrorist threat by the F.B.I. in 2001. One of its former members, Daniel McGowan, who pleaded guilty to arson charges, says in that film, “People need to question, like, this buzzword” — terrorist — “and how it’s being used and how it’s, like, just become the new ‘communist.’ ” He adds, “It’s a boogeyman word.”

The “Better This World” filmmakers, Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega, said they came away from their reporting with a recognition that use of the term “domestic terrorist” had broadened dramatically since the Sept. 11 attacks. “In the media and in the legal realm it’s marshaled for all sorts of political agendas, and it’s complicated,” Ms. Galloway said.
Framing is obviously important, and it can work. Look how frightened people are of being called "racist" even when they're not. Progressive love to attack folks as "racist," but when authorities clamp down on left-wing domestic terrorists, that's a "boogeyman." Typical.

As for Brad Crowder and David McKay, the subjects of the film, they were both idealistic and stupid. They wanted to change the world, got involved in far left-wing causes, and planned a trip to Minneapolis where organizers had planned to "shut the place down." Now how might they do that? By placing flowers in barrels of police shotguns? No, they had planned for streetfighting, even assembling shields and first-aid kits, and when that stuff was confiscated by authorities charged with securing the convention, they screamed "police oppression" and went off to build Molotovs. The only part that's "complicated" is the link to a government informant, Brandon Darby, who had strong creds in radical left circles following Katrina. But he turned state. Crowder and McKay fell under his sway, and some of those in the circle of organizers planned for violence and Crowder and McKay got caught. From Texas, they became known as the "Austin Anarchists." This part's especially good, from Michael May, at the Texas Observer, "The Infamous Austin Anarchists—in Their Own Words." The two carpooled it to Minneapolis, and May picks it up as they got to town:
Things became more testy when the five Austinites pulled into St. Paul. The federal government gave St. Paul $50 million to secure the convention. Authorities raided the homes of activists associated with the RNC Welcoming Committee before the convention started. Darby’s presence in the van assured that the group was under scrutiny. The activists dropped the trailer off at a house so they wouldn’t draw attention, but on the way into the city, the van was stopped by police with their guns drawn. They pulled everyone out of the van and had them lie on the ground before letting them go. Later, when the group returned to the trailer, they found it had been cleared of the shields and the rest of their supplies. The police took them, but didn’t explain their actions or reprimand them.

After the shields were taken, Crowder and McKay decided to make Molotov cocktails in retaliation. “When we got up there, the situation was superheated,” says Crowder. “The police were breaking the law left and right. They broke the law when they searched the trailer. They broke the law when they searched us at gunpoint. The atmosphere is like a military siege. And Brandon Darby has been providing us with his influence, encouraging us to step up our game. So it was confluence of forces and our particular rage and frustration that led us to make a bad decision. We thought, the [police] want to go to the walls; we don’t have to stand for this. We’re going to stand up for ourselves right now. It was an emotional feeling we went through.”

The two got Molotov supplies from a Walmart and a gas station. Within a few hours they were in the bathroom pouring fuel into wine bottles. Crowder says making the Molotovs was thrilling because of their potent symbolism as a revolutionary tool. “It’s a categorical break with official society,” he says. “With the shields, it was illegal, but still in scope of nonviolent resistance. With Molotov cocktails, that’s a flaming middle finger to official society.

"There is no middle ground to Molotov cocktail,” he says. “It’s raw. No good. It’s like with David and Goliath. Molotov cocktails are the proverbial stone. It was all we knew to go to in those times, the first thing in our swirling heads that we stumbled upon.”

They soon calmed down, Crowder says. "The next morning, David and I had slept on it. And we were in a different place. And we knew as heated as it was, it wasn’t the right time. It’s not Egypt. Not Libya. And we decided not to use them.”

When the rest of the group found out about the Molotovs, they confronted Crowder and McKay and told them they had made a terrible decision. One of the group told Darby what was going on and asked him to help stop it. Crowder and McKay left the firebombs in the basement and went to the protest, where they dragged dumpsters into the street and otherwise made a ruckus to stop delegates from reaching the convention. Crowder was arrested and jailed on a misdemeanor.

During that time, Darby and the FBI closed in on McKay. Darby wore a wire and asked McKay about his plans. The conversation wasn’t recorded, but the FBI took notes that state McKay said he planned to throw the Molotovs at a parking lot full of cop cars. McKay now says he was just posturing for Darby. “I didn’t want him to think that I was scared, scared of what was going to happen or afraid of him,” says McKay.

Crowder, who hasn’t spoken to McKay since the day he was arrested, believes that’s the only explanation that makes sense. “David had plenty of opportunity to use those things and never did,” Crowder says. “You got to separate macho talk from actual actions. At end of day, he’s not that guy. He wanted to man up for Brandon.”

McKay and Darby agreed to meet at 2 a.m. to use the Molotovs, but when the time rolled around, McKay blew it off and stopped responding to Darby’s calls and texts. At 4:30 a.m., McKay was awakened by a police officer pointing a rifle at him. He was asleep next to a girl he’d met in St. Paul. In about an hour, he was planning to leave for the airport to fly back to Austin.

McKay took his case to trial, arguing that he’d been entrapped. The trial ended in a hung jury. He added a story that he was eventually forced to admit was a lie, that Darby had directed them to make the Molotovs. McKay eventually pled guilty to making the Molotovs and to perjury. He was sentenced to four years in prison. Crowder pled guilty to possessing the Molotovs and received two years.
Actually, they were rightly convicted. Police informants or not, the two acted on their own. Probably the smartest thing they did was decide against actually throwing Molotovs. But there'll be others. Indeed, thanks to police efforts we've been spared the waves of left-wing revolutionary terrorism for which progressives keep agitating.