On Friday, November 15, 2013, extreme violence with malicious intent was meted out by Federal District Court Judge Loretta Preska in the sentencing phase of 28 year old hacktivist Jeremy Hammond before a chamber packed with friends, family, supporters and others on the 9th floor of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse in southern Manhattan.
Devoid of the slightest detectable impulse to mercy, Judge Preska intoned a clearly preformulated maximum sentence in the antiseptic banality of institutionalized cruelty now emblematic of an unfettered neoliberal American judiciary – 120 months in jail and 3 years supervised probation. No time knocked off for 20 months already served in the MCC, some of it in solitary confinement.
Ten years. Ten years! If it was in her power to sentence Hammond to 20, she would have gladly done so with the same slow dead eyed inevitability of a shark taking everything below the waist.
For what, exactly, does Jeremy Hammond get to spend the next ten years of his life in the stinking gulag of America’s for profit penal system? Ten years in a cage. For what?
For pleading guilty earlier this year to hacking into the computers of Austin, Texas based private intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting in December 2011 and disgorging at least 200 gigabytes of e-mails, credit card numbers, client identities and relationships.
And not to put too fine a point on it, let’s be clear what the “intelligence” business is. Stratfor is one of an unknown plenitude of clandestine private government and corporate contractors paid handsomely to do the outsourced dirty work of our intelligence agencies as well as corporate clientele. They spy for profit on friends, enemies, individuals, companies and governments on behalf of anyone who can pay – like Dow Chemical, Raytheon and Coca Cola. They do in the shadows for money what Jeremy Hammond did to them for free.
Hammond’s mountainous hack virtually denuded the company, dragging its tax subsidized carcass into the bright light of day where its private activities could be more publicly scrutinized. In just one telling e-mail exchange published by Wikileaks 2/27/2012 between Stratfor and another private security firm, serious interest is expressed in finding connections between journalist Alexa O’Brien’s campaign finance reform group and “fundamentalist Islamist movements”. She had come on the intelligence community’s radar as a dangerously dedicated malcontent with a tireless penchant for investigative journalism.
This disclosure as a direct result of Jeremy Hammond’s hack prompted O’Brien to submit a massive Freedom Of Information Act request on herself with the FBI, DHS, CIA, Dept. of State, the NYPD and a few other agencies I’ve never heard of. Hammond’s disclosures led Alexa O’Brien to become a co-plaintiff side by side with ethical humanist, Pulitzer Prize winning author and activist Chris Hedges in his lawsuit against President Obama to overturn Section 1021 (b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). That’s the little part that says the Executive can unilaterally label anyone a threat to national security and detain you indefinitely without charge until the “end of hostilities” – which is essentially forever. And just as essentially it also, as a practical matter, outlaws any attempt at meaningful journalism.
This e-mail exchange from Stratfor’s spool hacked by Jeremy Hammond, together with Alexa O’Brien’s subsequent lived experience, formed the pivotal and convincing basis for U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest’s granting a permanent injunction on Sect. 1021 (b)(2). Her decision was overruled almost immediately by a DOJ appeal to the 2nd Circuit. So none of us actually have any civil rights unless and until the Supremes decide whether they’ll consider the case on appeal and perhaps overrule Obama and Eric Holder’s DOJ.
The minutia of what was disclosed by Jeremy Hammond’s acts of civil disobedience are now a matter of very public record. He exposed the sordid business dealings between Stratfor, a company that enjoys a socialism denied to the vast majority of everyone else, and defense and intelligence related agencies of the U.S. Government that pay them in our tax dollars. Their subsidized perfidy in the gloaming of the last guttering impulse of American democracy could not, and would never have been, exposed without Jeremy Hammond’s willful and skillful hackfest.
In a bold, eloquent and largely unrepentant statement that seemed designed to undo 45 minutes of defense attorneys Sarah Kunstler and Susan Kellman’s best efforts at mitigation, Hammond said,
Could I have achieved the same goals through legal means? I have tried everything from voting petitions to peaceful protest and have found that those in power do not want the truth to be exposed. When we speak truth to power we are ignored at best and brutally suppressed at worst. We are confronting a power structure that does not respect its own system of checks and balances, never mind the rights of its own citizens or the international community.
I thought long and hard about choosing this path again. I had to ask myself, if Chelsea Manning fell into the abysmal nightmare of prison fighting for the truth, could I in good conscience do any less, if I was able? I thought that the best way to demonstrate solidarity was to continue the work of exposing and confronting corruption.
Concluding his statement, Jeremy Hammond turned his back to the bench and returned to his seat, flanked on both sides by his defense team. Walking back he flashed a genuinely incandescent smile to his supporters in the back of the courtroom. That smile, a radiant embrace of friends and family who had traveled from as far as Chile, at great personal cost, to bear witness and be with him one last time, could not have escaped the studied observation of a significant number of smartly uniformed cadets from a military academy who populated the front half of the courtroom on the left side of the aisle. They were on a field trip.
The field trips of my youth consisted of museums displaying Egyptian artifacts or going to see sap gathering for the distillation of maple syrup in the woods of upstate NY. These cadets were transported here to witness a master’s class in irony. In silent reserve, they watched the methodical extinguishing of a political prisoner’s life in a star chamber for acts committed in support of their freedom to choose, to study, graduate and be commissioned and sent all over the world to execute the violent corporate business of our government. The intended message could not possibly have been lost on these cadets of what, precisely, awaits them if they ever step out of line.
Setting aside issues of FBI entrapment and rather glaring conflicts of interest that should have caused Judge Preska to recuse herself early on as her husband’s law firm was discovered to be a client of Stratfor’s, the inartfully choreographed kabuki passing for justice in this case – and so many others – proceeded to its Kafkaesque endpoint – Jeremy Hammond being led off by plinth-like bailiffs through a back door in the courtroom, not to be heard from, at least not digitally, for a very, very long time.
I flew up from SW Florida on a max’d out credit card to be something more than an armchair activist, a passive observer to the violence that is no longer just outside my front door. It is now in the room with me in so very many ways. If I did not book a flight and a hotel room to stand and be counted, to bear witness in that courtroom to yet another whistle blower being thrown down a hole, something important inside of me would have started to die. I am now fully awake and inspired by the massive courage displayed by 28 year old Jeremy Hammond who knew full well what the corporate totalitarian state we all live in would do when it got its hands on him.
The bravery, dignity and eloquence with which he carried himself in the face of a system he knew would show him no mercy was exactly the same stoic resignation Martin felt just before he stepped out on that balcony in Memphis or what Rachel Corey felt when she stood her ground in the face of an Israeli armored Caterpillar D9R tractor bulldozing Palestinian homes in the Gaza.
To be clear, the information disgorged from Stratfor was our information, the American people’s information. It wasn’t their information or the government’s. It was ours. When companies like Stratfor do their very best to spy on private citizens, to link them, erroneously, to foreign militants so these citizens fighting for the most basic rights of a democratic state can then be arrested and charged as terrorists – they give up the right to privacy. And in the utter collapse of the 4th estate and the nascent, emergent 5th – brave whistle blowers and truth tellers like Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Glen Greenwald, Sheldon Wolin, Cornel West and Chris Hedges are all we have. They are all we have between us and them.
Post verdict I walked to Foley Square where Chris Hedges was already holding forth in a recorded Q&A. He was saying what he’s been saying with increasing urgency since my first exposure to him in an archived presentation at The Sanctuary in Troy, NY when promoting his then just published Death Of The Liberal Class. In his usual, brilliant fluency of thought and speech he passionately conveyed that we have no civil rights and no free press. And that in a corporate totalitarian state where they just keep pushing and pushing then violence is the inevitable outcome.
They’re bringing it on themselves. It’s no mistake our state and local police departments are now fully para-militarized – increasingly doing with guns, tasers, pepper spray and truncheons what Judge Preska did to Jeremy Hammond – with absolute impunity. I no longer know anyone who would seriously pick up the phone and call EMS in a medical emergency for fear of who would really show up and what might happen from there.
Jeremy Hammond had a solid turnout of supporters in court. The problem is, there should have been thousands. And where was the media? Like I overheard Chris Hedges say in Foley Square, “Where is every god damned reporter at the New York Times?” Well, the Times did write an article about the trial. Mark Mazzetti wrote a short, factually accurate piece in that achingly perfunctorial desiccation of corporate reportage. It appeared on page two below the fold in the business section. They buried it like Judge Preska buried Jeremy. Jason Meisner at the Chicago Tribune did little better.
As I said good-byes and headed back across the square to go write, I stared up at the huge granite pediment resting atop the 16 Corinthian columns of the NY State Supreme Court Building. Across its length it reads: The True Administration Of Justice Is The Firmest Pillar Of Good Government. Holy shit.