Red, White and Blue Fascism

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by Robert Thaxton

Rape in U.S. prisons is so much a part of American culture, comedians and TV sitcoms refer to it as a way to score a quick laugh. This is a sad reflection of the state of our society. The issue of prison rape points to many related concerns about the civil rights, health and safety of prisoners and the "build em and fill em" mania which has the U.S. political system moving in a seriously dangerous direction. The incredible growth of the punishment industry has made it an integral part of the economy, similar to the way the production of war materials is essential for economic growth. This continual expansion requires ever more people to be incarcerated, for longer periods of time. It's about jobs. My intention in writing this was originally to call attention to the plight of a woman prisoner I know - Barrilee Bannister at Oregon Women's Corrections Center. Her story is so typical of the conditions abused prisoners face, though, it's impossible to separate from the larger social and political issues which created and perpetuate these conditions. Though many states were already headed in the direction of tough-on-crime politics before then, George Bush brought it to the forefront of the political arena as a central part of his campaign strategy in '88. The alternative candidate retorted, not by challenging Bush's alarmist rhetoric, but by showing just how tough on crime he could be. Since then, attacks on women's access to abortions, anti-flag burning legislation and tough-on-crime posturing have all been essential elements in winning election campaigns for much of the country. This vilification of the general public as flag-burning-abortion-having criminals has led to the ascensdence of a corporate-run state in which the masses are horrified at "violence" directed at corporate property, but indiscriminate assaults on anyone and everyone by the police are tolerated as a just aspect of imposing order, as happened during the so-called Battle of Seattle when the World Trade Organization confered there last year. The overly shrill denunciation of the rioters is but one example of the attitudes which have, unsurprisingly, created an atmosphere of self-repression in the general public. Voters unthinkingly pass new legislation into law in their eagerness to repress themselves: three strikes, mandatory sentencing and upward reclassification of lesser crimes are others. This has led to a dramatic increase in the number of people incarcerated in the U.S. Earlier this year, the prison population here exceeded 2 million men, women and children. Worldwide, there are 8 million people in prison. With five percent of the world's population, the U.S. has 25 percent of its prisoners. Land of the free, my ass. Just as the U.S. holds a disproportionate number of the world's prisoners, a disproportionate number of those prisoners are Black and Latino. Most of us are poor too - as are most of the white prisoners. With token exceptions, mainstream America is lily white and worships wealth. Anyone outside the mainstream is objectified as "others," as opposed to friends, neighbors, and relatives. This makes their vilification easier to accept. Youth is also a targeted segment of society. Despite the fact that juvenile crime has been in decline since the 1970s, the media and the politicians are in hysterics about how to better control youths. Control, to the forces of order and power, means prisons. So many people are being incarcerated these days that building and running prisons constitute two of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. economy. This awful situation is made even more so when one considers that this was done deliberately by the corporations and the governments - city, county, state and federal. Their cooperation has led to the development of a corporate state. Get it? The Italian word for corporate state is fasciata - fascism. Just to clarify: I am in no way implying the U.S. A. resembles a fascist nation/state; I'm saying that the U.S. is in fact a real, actual fascist country. If you think I'm exaggerating to make apoint, consider: 1) A right-wing, fascist sympathizer (who would display this by honoring his fallen heroes - Hitler's SS, the Nazi-party army - this, a week after addressing a gathering of Spanish fascists, where he told them the U.S. fought on the wrong side during WWII. And he did this while in office!) was elected president of eligible voters, then promptly declared his victory a "revolution". 2) His first act as president was to fire striking air traffic controllers. He later had the savings and loan industry deregulated so that board members could plunder them. He used the General Accounting Office to withhold funds for "anti-business" projects - like enforcement of O.H.S.A. and E.P.A. regulations - and redirected the money to his friends and allies in the defense industry and to raise private armies to wage "secret" wars. 3) At the end of their first puppet regime, the corporate state is so entrenched in power that no politicians dare speak or run against it. They only slightly disagree on how to manage it. A controversy in legislatures usually involves debate about whether to give corporations all the power they demand or to give them even more. 4) Laws are passed to encourage industries to shut down and relocate their operations. This leads to hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs. Many of these relocations are done in retaliation for city and state governments passing regulations favoring workers and protecting the environment. 5) To prepare for the conditions massive unemployment will cause their communities, many begin to build jails and prisons, both to house the people whose lives were devastated by the loss of the industries and to provide jobs for the select few. 6) International treaties are ratified to force nations to submit to the domination of their economies by the corporate state. Fascism is a socialistic form of rule whereby institutions are everything and the people are nothing - except for the ruling elite. Though fascist governments function most efficiently under a dictatorship, there have been instances where fascists were voted into power - El Salvador and Argentina come to mind. Racism is usually associated wiuth fascists, though it certainly isn't a definitive characteristic. Two of the most recognizable traits of fascism are extreme nationalism and intolerance of opposition. Just because American fascists don't openly goose-step at mass rallies, they aren't any less recognizable. It will be interesting to see how they react to an unexpected turn of events - the recent emergence of genuine opposition to their iron-clad rule, as is being demonstrated by massive street actions in First World countries. So long as these actions lead to no real changes, they will be tolerated - even welcomed - as a new-found tool to control the masses. Thought this oppostitional movement shows some promise, the utterly dismal failure of the IMF / World Bank protests shows how easily the opposition can be co-opted and/or silenced. We can look back to the last worldwide period of unrest - '68 - '72 - to see that much of what pacified the militants then is already happening now - the well-trained professional activists call for restraint in exchange for photo ops with and meaningless promises from politician. Those not satisfied with this arrangement will face harsh treatment from the police - which makes the leaders of the oppositional-like organizations all the more eager to compromise with the forces of order and power. For now, however, it seems possible that this could change, should the opposition solidify its position against capitalism and keep pressure on the capitalist politicians. How will the corporate state respond to real, determined opposition in the First World to its policies and goals? If one listens to the mouthpieces of the ruling class, the prospects are not encouraging. Elected officials have basically exonerated the out-of-control Seattle Police Department for its savage attack on everyone in the streets of downtown and the Capitol Hill neighborhood, yet have denounced the people who attacked and damaged corporate property. The loyal opposition has joined them, too, leaving an isolated minority vulnerable to reprisals from the forces of order and power. Notice my deliberate us of the phrase "order and power" rather than the cliché "law and order." Much of the actions by the SPD during their all-out assault on the people in and out of Seattle was illegal in many respects - violations of the U.S. and Washington constitutions; human rights treaties; city, state and federal laws. At issue is not the respect for law, but who has power - people in the community, or corporations and their hired mercenaries? It is the corporations who have the economic power to control the actions of the government and police, and with the exception of the street vandals during the Battle of Seattle, few people have yet to challenge that power. I'm going to briefly mention corporate crime. Despite massive and blatant disregard for health, safety and environmental laws and regulations, I see no politicians or government officials calling for long jail sentences for these crimes, nor for the plunderers of the savings and loan industry, which has cost the taxpayers over a trillion dollars so far. Under a fascist government, the ruling elite are beyond the reach of the law. Given he current "anti-crime" hysteria in the political scene these days, the future for political dissenters looks quite grim. One group who has recognized this goes by the name of Future Political Prisoners of America. When is Rape Legal? My friend Barrilee is involved in a scenario worthy of the most twisted imaginings of Franz Kafka. This young, working class single mother (there's three strikes against her already) lost her temper. Her and her best friend's lives were endangered by the wreckless actions of a man - a stranger, who she later beat up in a fit of rage. She is currently serving a 12 year sentence for her crime, under the supervision of the Oregon Department of Corrections. If the man she had assaulted through his wreckless actions, he could have received a considerably lesser sentence. Unprepared for the drastic increase in prisoners due to manditory sentencing laws, the O.D.O.C. decided to send a number of prisoners out of state. 78 women ended up at the Corrections Corporations of America's Central Arizona Detention Center in Florence. This facility was not set up to accommodate women prisoners. The all-male staff was quick to take advantage of their position of power over these women to force them into performing erotic acts for them, when they weren't actually raping the prisoners. Women who tried to call this to the attention of the warden were subjected to particularly harsh retaliation. This was not a matter of a few bad apples abusing their authority. Somewhere between 27 (according to CCA staff) and 50 (according to the prisoners) guards joined in. This is not a lone example of sexual abuse of women in prison. Women in Washington D.C.'s Department of Corrections reported they were forced to dance naked for the guards. This after the D.C. D.O.C. had settled a lawsuit for $8 million over sexual harassment of women prisoners. As is typical in such incidents, the women's complaints were not reported to law enforcement agencies or to the proper courts. Instead, the women were identified to the staff as "loud mouths" and subjected to disciplinary action, like being put into segregation units - the hole - good time taken away and sometimes the women were fined, in addition to a continuation of even an escalation of their abuse. How far will governments and prison officials go to protect their rapist guards? Rather than punishment for their crimes, guards have sometimes been promoted after being accused. The state legislature of Michigan even passed a law to prevent a lawsuit from being filed against the Michigan D.O.C. by victims of sexual abuse by M.D.O.C. staff. All this has not gone unnoticed, even if the American public is, for the most part, unconcerned. Human Rights Watch has begun documenting these abuses and has a report on the M.D.O.C. titled "Nowhere to Hide: Retaliation Against Women in Michigan State Prisons." When Barrilee and other women finally decided to take drastic action against C.C.A. to put an end to their torture and humiliation, their story created a media sensation, first in local Oregon newspapers, then on TV, until it exploded nationally. Eventually, the women were returned to Oregon and the C.C.A. fired or suspended three dozen staff members. If this were a Hollywood story, Barrilee would have been released due to massive public outrage and a sympathetic court system. In the real world, Barrilee is still in prison, under the supervision of people whose jobs and careers she has put in jeopardy by standing up for her rights. She has been repeatedly told to keep quiet by the prisoncrats at O.W.C.C. If there are three words that can describe Barrilee, though, they are "fight, fight, fight." Utterly unintimidated, she continues to speak her mind and stand her ground. This is where I entire the picture. As a lifelong activist, when mutual friends introduced us through the mail, I became not only outraged over her abuse but also impressed by her strong spirit. Her story became known to me over several months' correspondence. I told her I would try to get some outside support for her, which I did. As an anarchist organizer, activist and writer, I have a number of contacts in the anarchist community. One man in particular stands out in this part of the story - Anthony Rayson, one of the strongest supporters of anarchist and other prisoners in the U.S. He is Midwest Coordinator of the Political Prisoners of War Coalition and also participates in the Anarchist Black Cross - another support group that sends literature to prisoners. Anthony sent Barrilee letters of solidarity and reading material. Alarmed that she was getting the attention of political activists outside, the administration quickly moved against Barrilee. She was assigned to Security Threat Group (anarchist) status - a designation used to keep gang members under closer supervision than general population prisoners. Since this was a new - not to mention ficticious - development, Barrilee was put in the hole, had 12 days of accumulated good time reinstated to her sentence and was fined. She was also fired from her job. When another packet of literature from Anthony arrived, the O.W.C.C. rejected it as a security threat. Then they threw Barrilee - who had just been released from the hole - back into disciplinary segregation. She has been warned not to contact me or Anthony. She has also been instructed to stop referring to O.W.C.C. staff as "gestapos" in her letters. Human Rights Watch's report - "All too Familiar: Sexual Abuse of Women in the U.S. State Prisons" - along with dozens of individual and class action lawsuits, suggests that sexual abuse of women prisoners is not only evident, but rampant in U.S. prisons. Estimates run as high as 70 to 80 percent of women prisoners experience sexual abuse. The apathy of the general public to this horror has pushed some women prisoners to suicide, particularly in the states of Florida and Connecticut. This lack of empathy from the outside is only a single symptom of a greater lack of concern about abuses of power by those supposedly in charge of upholding the law. The public has apparently failed to realize that increased penalties for a greater variety of crimes, along with the constant addition of new laws to the books, will do nothing to make their society safer and instead turn their "democratic" corporate state into a totalitarian police state. Since the focus of spending for prisons has shifted to construction, prisons have cut back on programs intended to prepare the incarcerated for their return to society. Thus, the purpose of internment has changed from rehabilitation to punishment. This partially explains why the public is disinterested in the abuse - sexual or otherwise - of prisoners. That, plus a willful stupidity. If it hasn't occurred to the voters of Oregon that sexual and physical abuse are learned cycles of behavior, they'll be figuring it out soon enough, as the first wave of Measure 11 offenders - victims of long, mandatory sentences (and abuse) - are released. Since so many (65%) victims of Measure 11 are young, first-time offenders, this portends a social catastrophe. What percentage of these first-time offenders will repeat the behavior they learned in prison upon their release? And what if efforts to head off this impending social disaster through educational and activist campaigns are successful? If probation is again an option to judges, juries and prosecutors, along with shorter sentences, there will be even less incentive to rehabilitate prisoners. The state will need repeat offenders to keep their prisons full. Before dismissing this notion as cynical paranoia, let me remind the reader that when a small Florida community learned the local industry would soon close, leaving 1,700 people without work, their solution to this problem was to build a 1,200 bed jail. Crime is a good business investment. If the government and politicians want to invest in prison and jail construction, you can bet they'll see to it that their money is well spent. According to Texas prisoner I've been corresponding with, "…they're putting people in and they're not letting them out." Several states, including Texas and Oregon, now require prisoners due for release to take a psychological evaluation. Without explanation, a hearing or a chance to respond to the psychologist face-to-face, the prison officials can extend the prisoner's "stay" or two years, even if the prisoner has no history of disciplinary infractions or has not been found guilty of new crimes. This is illegal. The courts have instructed the O.D.O.C. they have no authority to do this. They continue to do it anyway. So, the prison staff abuses prisoners, rapes women prisoners, and the administration covers it up, condones or in extreme cases rewards the abuse by its staff - then takes disciplinary action against or extends the sentence of prisoners in retaliation if they take legal action to correct these abuses. A recent federal inquiry into the abuse by police and prison staff (the Clinton Administration's report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture - 10/15/99) proudly announced that, though there are instances of abuse, they are aberrations and there are no signs of widespread human rights violations by the forces of order and power. Unlike the gullible citizens of the U.S., the rest of the world isn't buying Clinton's story. A Canadian judge recently refused to extradite a young man to the U.S., citing inhumane conditions - the tolerance of homosexual rape among them- in the U.S. prisons as his reason. My courageous friend Barrilee's situation is a microcosm of everything wrong with this society. Sentenced for an incredibly harsh prison term for a relatively minor offense, she was shipped to a distant state where she was sexually abused, ignored by the administration of the for-profit institution when she reported the abuse, and then shipped back to Oregon where she was threatened with retaliation and finally dumped into the hole for continuing to speak up for herself. And so far, the administration and bureaucrats are able to get away with this because the citizens of Oregon don't care; many of them actually approve of the humiliation, beating and rape of prisoners. Under red, white and blue fascism, the American people have been conditioned to love the powerful and hate themselves - objectified as "others." If the corporate state closes the local factories, and moves them to abroad, the media plays "America the Beautiful", the corporate leaders wave the flag and the politicians build prisons for the newly created underclass. Much of the information for this article was obtained from: *** This is an article by anarchist political prisoner Robert Thaxton. He wishes for the widespread distribution of this text in the anarchist and radical press. He also enjoys mail: Robert Thaxton #12112716 OSP 2605 State St. Salem, OR 97310 USA It has been suggested that action be taken on the issue of rape and sexual abuse of prisoners in the US this July 4th. The Anarchist Prisoners' Legal Aid Network is a new group dedicated to meeting the needs and breaking the isolation of anarchist prisoners. We encourage widespread involvement by fellow anarchists. We may be contacted at: Anarchist Prisoners' Legal Aid Network 818 SW 3rd Ave. PMB #354 Portland, OR 97204 *** Prison Legal News 2400 NW 80th St. #148 Seattle, WA 98117 Human Rights Watch 350 Fifth Ave. 34th floor New York, NY 10118 (212) 290-9700 Fax: 736-1300 Email: "Nowhere to Hide…" Stop Prison Rape 6632 Lexington Ave Suite 48 Los Angeles, CA 90038 Barrilee Bannister #11309597 OWCC 2809 State St. Salem, OR 97310

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