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Hearing that your son was sentenced to eight years in prison is not normally a cause for celebration. But after a federal judge imposed this term on his 21-year-old son, Connor Stevens, for his role in an FBI-inspired plot to bomb a Cleveland-area bridge last April 30, 2012, James Stevens said, “I felt relief.”
James realized it could have been much worse given that prosecutors were asking for 19 years. “The judge was very fair and lenient,” Stevens said from
For Gail Stevens, Connor’s mother, the outcome is a mixed blessing. “On one side it’s a victory because they got so much less time than what the government wanted. On the other it’s a ridiculous, ridiculous long time given what happened and the government’s responsibility for this. The government has taken these years of their lives away from them.”
Also on November 20, U.S. District Court Judge David D. Dowd Jr. sentenced Douglas Wright, 27, to 11 and a half years and Brandon Baxter, 21, to 9 years and 9 months in prison for participating in the failed attempt to use plastic explosives to topple a highway bridge crossing the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. Anthony Hayne, 36, who pled guilty July 25 on 3 charges as part of a deal to testify against his 4 associates in exchange for leniency was sentenced to 6 years in prison. One other man awaits sentencing, Joshua Stafford, 23, who is being evaluated for mental competency.
Terry Gilbert, Stevens’s defense attorney, told the media that the sentences were, “A big rejection of the government’s position.” The prosecutor demanded far longer terms for Wright and Baxter too, 30 years and 25 years, respectively. Dowd reportedly said afterward that the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendations were “grotesque” and “doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”
The FBI’s most valuable asset was a paid informant and con artist, Shaquille Azir, who played father figure to the lost men, molding their childish bravado and drunken fantasies into a terrorist plot. Azir drove the five around—who lacked cars and drivers’ licenses according to friends—and provided them with jobs, housing, beer, pot and prescription drugs. Every time the scheme threatened to collapse into gutterpunk chaos, Azir kept it on track.
FBI tapes reveal Azir led the brainstorming of targets, showed them bridges to case out, pushed them to buy C-4 military-grade explosives, provided the contact for weapons, gave them money for the explosives and demanded they develop a plan because “We on the hook” for the weapons. At one point, Azir burst out in frustration at their ineptitude: “Every time we meet, we leave saying, we’re doing some research. And then get back together and go back to square one.”
The enterprise was comical at times. Wright told the FBI agent posing as an arms dealer that he could pay for the explosives by borrowing money to deal drugs, and Baxter suggested that during the getaway they could throw tacks out of the car, “If they get in a chase.” The group was nabbed at an Applebee’s after futilely using cell phones to detonate the charges, as they had been instructed.
Shortly after their arrests, activists formed a defense committee to support the families, raise legal funds and publicize the case of the “
The five were neophytes without connections to political movements that could rally to their side. Lea Tolls, a 46-year-old mother and self- described “Occu-mom,” says, “Except for Connor, they were destitute. They are angry, some have mental illnesses, and there is alcoholism and abuse in their families.” None had the prominence of Daniel McGowan who, facing more than 335 years in prison for eco-sabotage, drew on years of activism to mobilize legal and public support that brought the government to the bargaining table, resulting in a 7-year sentence. One writer argues that the FBI strategy had evolved since McGowan’s case, to target “disconnected young people” because that, “Dramatically decreases the resources that will be mobilized to support them.”
With Hayne prepared to testify against them, the situation was grim for the remaining four. On September 5, Wright, Baxter and Stevens accepted guilty pleas, hoping to avoid terrorism enhancement charges that could have resulted in decades in prison. But in a pre-sentencing hearing on November 5, Judge Dowd applied the terrorism charges.
That’s why the sentences were a surprise. Gail Stevens says her son Connor, “Was in pretty good spirits after the sentencing. He thought it went the best that it could have.” Gail says for every year of good behavior, Connor’s time will be reduced by 54 days and if he can get into a drug and alcohol counseling program he will get another year off. Counting time served, Stevens could be released in a little more than 5 years. But he will be on probation for the rest of his life, as will Baxter and Wright.
Everyone who has met Connor Stevens speaks highly of him, even Judge Dowd. All three defendants gave statements explaining and apologizing for their actions. Dowd said Connor gave “the best allocution I ever heard. I have a hunch that kid is going to turn out okay.”
Speaking of the emotional conflict between parental pride and Connor’s imprisonment, Gail says she was “oddly elated” by Dowd’s comment. “I am proud that the judge said this is the best statement he ever heard.”
Until the Bureau of Prisons assigns him to a new prison, Connor will remain in the Corrections Corporation of
In a visit in mid-October, Connor was wearing orange scrubs, nestled in a mesh cage behind a thick panel of soundproof glass. When asked what he misses most, Connor said, “Exercise, nature, the fresh air, earth, sky, sun.” He said when he gets out, the “First thing is hug my mom, hug Nevaeh, my niece, spend time with my grandfather, if he’s still around, spend a lot of time in the woods, enjoy the sounds, the smells. I get a feeling of calm and harmony. We have a lack of intimacy with nature and hence each other.”
The conversation repeatedly circled around to “the sheer stupidity of what happened last April.” Connor doesn’t let the Feds or Azir off the hook for his predicament, and he holds “a bit of a grudge” against his two cellmates, Brandon Baxter and Douglas Wright as well, but mostly he blames himself for “my own failures and obvious errors.”
“The only reason I was associating with Shaq at all was to make money and various other benefits. In April I was working for Shaq, drinking immense amounts of alcohol, using drugs, pulling night shifts at the Occupy Cleveland tent, and I had an intimate relationship.” He says what happened “strongly confirmed the fact that I need to be sober.”
It was a month before his sentencing and Connor was in limbo, having pled guilty but not knowing his fate. He said he was trying to, “Focus on good things rather than succumb to self-pity or depression.” But when he talked about his lack of relationships, he said, “Dante defines hell as proximity without intimacy.”
Looking at the world, he said, “Ecocide seems inevitable and most people don’t give a fuck. All we have is how we carry ourselves day to day.” Unlike when he first was imprisoned he said, “I’m not reading the Bible as much. I don’t like the idea of getting into spirituality or religion in a time of crisis.”
Connor does manage to nurture hope in the harsh, dark environment. “There’s a reason why I and the others are here. It’s to make small changes that point back to nature instead of warring with it.” For now, Connor says, “The most important things are letters from outside, even if they are total strangers.” Gail Stevens says, “More than ever Connor needs to stay connected and know that he’s not forgotten and alone in there. He’s written more than 350 letters since May. All he does with his commissary money is buy stamps.”
As they await Connor’s transfer, the Stevens are angry. Gail, who is separated from James Stevens, says Azir is “Worse than a sexual predator. My anger and frustration at the system has only increased after hearing the ludicrous things they say, the out and out lies, how they twist things.” In a pre-sentencing statement, James said he “Kind of lashed out. Man, I called the government guilty.... I was talking to the prosecutor and FBI. I said this is illegal, this is immoral, this is entrapment. The attorneys couldn’t say it, the defendants sure as hell couldn’t say it, but as the father, I could say it.”
The experience has “been completely heart wrenching,” says Gail. “I still feel really numb. The time hasn’t sunk in. It’s impacted my life in every way, mentally, emotionally, physically and financially. It’s hard to put into words being a mother and watching your child go through something like this. I think about him first thing in the morning. I think about Connor all day long. I go to bed thinking about him. Things that used to matter no longer matter. When people talk about having a bad day, you don’t know what it is to have a bad day.”
“Not Your Garden Variety Terrorism Case”
In an interview, attorney Terry Gilbert pointed to three factors in the lenient sentencing. “I think the judge recognized this was not your garden-variety terrorism case.” Also, Gilbert says, the FBI did not appear to take into account “public reaction,” referencing articles in the national media that detailed the Bureau’s role in instigating the plot. The third factor was “aggressive defense lawyers.”
The defense hired a military expert who calculated that ten pounds of C-4 explosives would have only caused “surface” damage to the bridge, whereas to “breach or severely damage” the reinforced concrete foundations would have required a minimum of 3,719 pounds of explosives. Gilbert says, “I think the judge put a lot of stock in the military expert’s testimony that it would take nearly two tons of explosives to bring down the bridge.” He explained the inept planning by the five indicates they were incapable of carrying out the plot without constant FBI hand-holding. A little internet research would have alerted them to the fact that 10 pounds of C-4 could sever an 8-inch steel beam, a far cry from the 20-foot-thick columns at the foot of the bridge.
Gilbert says that while the defense counsel argued against imposing terrorism enhancement, this may have been a tactical maneuver on the judge’s part. “My take on it is that Dowd wanted to craft a reasonable sentence that gave the government less opportunity to challenge it on appeal.” Nonetheless, despite the relatively lenient sentencing, Baxter, Stevens and Wright are appealing the case hoping to eliminate the terrorism enhancement and lessen their punishment.
The case is part of a national trend, claims Gilbert. The FBI dispatched Azir to an Occupy Cleveland event on October 21, 2011, “Based on an initial report of potential criminal activity and threats involving anarchists.” Gilbert questions why the feds would send “a plant into a peaceful demonstration with a very ambiguous claim of criminal behavior.” He says, “Once you get an informant in there they have every motive to get a case. They are trying to make money or are working off a criminal case.” This profile fits Azir: he has a criminal record stretching 20 years, was indicted twice for passing bad checks during the investigation, and has filed 9 bankruptcy petitions in 12 years.
In a memo dated November 14, Judge Dowd undercut the rationale for the investigation. The FBI’s first report from Azir stated that Doug Wright and a group of unnamed white males at the Occupy Cleveland event “Were expressing displeasure at the crowd’s unwillingness to act violently.” In actuality, Dowd found that Baxter and Wright “joined the others in the nonviolent approach.”
Gilbert speculates that the initial report of potential violence may have not been a random tip, but, “Something coming down from Homeland Security. These federal and local police networks have a lot of time on their hands and are pro-actively looking for something. I do think there was an eye toward Occupy.”
Dowd also rejected the Bureau’s initial description of Wright as being in the “planning phase” to topple a bank sign from a 947-foot-tall skyscraper in downtown Cleveland, finding that he was merely expressing his “fascination with the idea of pulling pranks by using spray paint, stink bombs and smoke bombs which he heard about in the Anarchist’s Cookbook.” Dowd noted as well that Azir “facilitated the criminal conduct of the defendants.”
Three weeks after the
While the police boot has come down hard on Occupy around the country, the main target appears to be anarchists. The government’s sentencing memorandum for Baxter, Wright and Stevens claims that what united the “brothers-in-arms” was “hatred of the government, and shared anarchist background” in pursuit of their “already decided upon goal to carry out an attack that would, in their minds, lead to a larger civil war.” A recently unclassified FBI document paints anarchists as “criminals seeking an ideology to justify their activities,” and warns they are engaged in “experimentation with new tactics, weapons.” Then again, just as the sentencing memorandum claims, “anarchists see the government and business as two heads of the same beast,” the national security apparatus probably views Occupy and anarchists as inter- changeable.
Ironically, Anthony Hayne was staring at the longest sentence, after negotiating a minimum of 188 months for cooperating with the prosecution. Gilbert says, “The government has him at a higher level than the guys who refused to cooperate.” He chuckles when mentioning that Hayne’s lawyer filed a motion the same day to withdraw the guilty plea. “We did a whole lot better. These guys can hold their heads high and will never be labeled a snitch who turned on their fellow defendants.”
Arun Gupta is a co-founder of the Indypendent and the Occupied Wall Street Journal. He is writing a book on the decline of the American empire.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.