Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Jeremy Hammond's radical morality as a hacker

Edward Snowden and Chelsea/ Bradley Manning are names we recognize. Excoriated as traitors, celebrated as patriots, these two whistleblowers from within the belly of the beast can at least be credited for the NSA's decision this week to cut back some of its phone surveillance. If not for WikiLeaks and related revelations, the Obama administration would have gone on pretending that hope and change created a less draconian governmental presence, and that all was well post-2008 with us, if not exactly post-9/11 threat.

A third name, to me, was new. Chris Hedges in a chapter from the well-titled Wages of Rebellion: the Moral Imperative of Revolt asks: "Why should we be so impoverished that so that the profits of big banks, corporations, and hedge funds can swell?" Not exactly pithy words to fit on a rebel flag or even a bumper sticker, but this issue cannot be reduced to soundbites or slogans. It is vast; it impels.

In 2013, Hedges narrates, he watched in court as Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to the full ten years his charges could earn. "Hammond, then age twenty-six, released to WikiLeaks, Rolling Stone, and other publications some 5 million emails in 2011 from the Texas-based company Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor." Like Manning, Snowden, and the MSM-reviled Julian Assange, Hammond sought to expose what the State wants to hide, in the name of supposed national security.

"The 5 million email exchanges, once made public, exposed the private security firm’s infiltration, monitoring, and surveillance of protesters and dissidents on behalf of corporations and the national security state. And perhaps most importantly, the information provided chilling evidence that antiterrorism laws are being routinely used by the state to criminalize nonviolent, democratic dissent and falsely link dissidents to international terrorist organizations. Hammond sought no financial gain. He got none." Hedges explains that for hacking, this long U.S. sentence was one of the toughest ever.

"It was wildly disproportionate to the crime—an act of nonviolent civil disobedience that championed the public good by exposing abuses of power by the government and a security firm. But the excessive sentence was the point." The judge herself has ties to firms that were exposed, and her ruling seems to be compromised by her vendetta, as she appears to have used her power to abuse him.

Hedges asks, aloud, what many wonder: "Why should we respect a court system, or a governmental system, that does not respect us? Why should we abide by laws that protect only criminals like Wall Street thieves while leaving the rest of us exposed to abuse? Why should we continue to have faith in structures of power that deny us our most basic rights and civil liberties? Why should we be impoverished so that the profits of big banks, corporations, and hedge funds can swell?"

Hedges portrays Hammond as a working-class radical, with a punk-rock father who in a Western Chicago suburb had to raise twins alone after their mother abandoned them at three. Hammond picked up a talent for computers early on, and a passion for subversive, non-party politics. A different heartland machine than that which maneuvered Hillary or Obama into the White House, surely.

"Hammond, six feet tall and wiry, defined himself when we met in jail as 'an anarchist communist.' He said he had dedicated his life to destroying capitalism and the centralized power of the corporate state and that he embraced the classic tools of revolt, including mass protests, general strikes, and boycotts. And he saw hacking and leaking as critical tools of this resistance, to be used not only to reveal the truths about systems of corporate power but to “disrupt/destroy these systems entirely.”

Once the FBI's #1 most wanted cybercriminal, Hammond explained his motivation to Hedges from his imprisonment at the FCI Greenville, Illinois, facility. 'I saw what Chelsea Manning did,' he said when we spoke, seated at a metal table in a tiny room reserved for attorney-client visits. 'Through her hacking, she became a contender, a world changer. She took tremendous risks to show the ugly truth about war. I asked myself, If she could make that risk, shouldn’t I make that risk? Wasn’t it wrong to sit comfortably by, working on the websites of Food Not Bombs, while I had the skills to do something similar? I too could make a difference. It was her courage that prompted me to act.'”

Hammond told Hedges how he strove to attain “'leaderless collectives based on free association, consensus, mutual aid, self-sufficiency and harmony with the environment.' It is essential, he said, that all of us work to cut our personal ties with capitalism and engage in resistance that includes 'mass organizing of protests, strikes, and boycotts,' as well as hacking and leaking, which are 'effective tools to reveal ugly truths of the system or to disrupt/destroy these systems entirely.'" But what if the system fights back, as it always does? Hammond knows Chicago history, as at Haymarket in 1887.

Hedges famously criticized some who wanted confrontation at Occupy Wall Street. I found it noteworthy that he allowed at length here Hammond to have his say to the contrary. "Hammond said he was not interested in a movement that 'only wanted a ‘nicer’ form of capitalism and favored legal reforms, not revolution.” He said he did not support what he called a 'dogmatic nonviolence doctrine' held by many in the Occupy movement, describing it as 'needlessly limited and divisive.' He rejected the idea of protesters carrying out acts of civil disobedience that they know will lead to arrest. 'The point,' he said, 'is to carry out acts of resistance and not get caught.' He condemned the 'peace patrols'— units formed within the Occupy movement that sought to prohibit acts of vandalism and violence by other protesters, most often members of the Black Bloc—as 'a secondary police force.'”

"Furthermore, Hammond dismissed the call by many in Occupy not to antagonize the police, whom he characterized as 'the boot boys of the one percent, paid to protect the rich and powerful.' He said such a tactic of nonconfrontation with the police ignored the long history of repression by the police in attacking popular movements, as well as the 'profiling and imprisonment of our comrades.' He went on: 'Because we were unprepared, or perhaps unwilling, to defend our occupations, police and mayors launched coordinated attacks driving us out of our own parks.'" I posted on this blog the photos of the LAPD in hazmat gear, giant trucks destroying the Occupy LA site and I am not sure, given that department's record in dealing with urban protest, if armed defense would be true defense.

Hedges had critiqued Black Bloc, while Hammond champions it. “'I fully support and have participated in Black Bloc and other forms of militant direct action,' he said. 'I do not believe that the ruling powers listen to the people’s peaceful protests. Black Bloc is an effective, fluid, and dynamic form of protest. It causes disruption outside of predictable/controllable mass demonstrations through unarrests, holding streets, barricades, and property destruction. Smashing corporate windows is not violence, especially when compared to the everyday economic violence of sweatshops and "free trade." Black Bloc seeks to hit them where it hurts, through economic damage. But more than smashing windows, they seek to break the spell of "law and order" and the artificial limitations we impose on ourselves.” This smacks to me of rhetoric, but underneath, there lurks a call to real liberty. I sympathize with this perspective, but part of me, however cowed, seems to admit its futility. There always seems, as the Irish situation reveals, a spy in the revolutionary ranks, an agent provocateur.

Facing his sentence, Hammond spoke: “The acts of civil disobedience that I am being sentenced for today are in line with the principles of community and equality that have guided my life. I hacked into dozens of high-profile corporations and government institutions, understanding very clearly that what I was doing was against the law, and that my actions could land me back in federal prison. But I felt that I had an obligation to use my skills to expose and confront injustice—and to bring the truth to light." And here, a bit freed of phrases he repeated earlier, I sense an honest, truly "direct action."

The FBI used a hacker to trap Hammond, keeping back doors open so the agency could track Hammond and watch him progress in his exposure. Hammond pled guilty, but he wonders why the corporations and entities responsible for the crimes of the State and of Capital get off free. He claims after his prison stint that nobody should be incarcerated. I think of some madmen and unhinged women behind bars, but perhaps in his anarchist vision, alternative treatment of facilities might be envisioned. For now, he encourages non-cooperation, non-capitalism, and sustained resistance.

I tried to excerpt more here from Hedges’ article. But after I pasted the penultimate paragraph above, my net went haywire. Google’s blog platform froze and then the characters went backwards. The Salon site blared a commercial embedded for State Farm Insurance. Microsoft, where I tried to copy this post so I could edit it, at first refused to allow me to transfer any more of the Hedges column.

I close this, then, prematurely, while wondering at the connivance of the system Hammond fights to fight back, somehow occluded, against even those like me who attempt to disseminate his struggle. I urge you to visit the original interview with Hammond, and to spread the good word and good fight.

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