April 30, 2017. Tonight marks the fifth anniversary of the arrest of Brandon Baxter, Connor Stevens, Doug Wright, and Josh “Skelly” Stafford—the young men who came to be known as the Cleveland 4. Their arrest was the culmination of an FBI-created plot to place (fake, government-supplied) explosives under the base of a bridge and brand Occupy activists as “terrorists.” On this anniversary, we should pause. Take a moment to think about what was done to the Cleveland 4, the consequences they continue to suffer and the support they need, and how their case is a reflection of the bigger political moment in which we are living—and what that requires of us.
The plot to blow up a bridge was the result of months of coercion by a paid government informant and elaborate orchestration by the FBI. In a common pattern since 9/11, the FBI created a terrorism plot, entrapped vulnerable people in it, supplied the materials, and then supposedly heroically captured the made up “terrorists”—reassuring the public that the government would protect them…from a threat that never really existed. In addition to being used against the Cleveland 4 as anarchists in the Occupy movement in an attempt to quell it, this pattern has repeatedly been used to entrap young Muslim men and manufacture Islamophobia. And the pattern will surely continue to be used and adapted. As long as the FBI issues press releases that smear people across the media as “terrorists,” the State will continue to use the crafted narrative to justify its Orwellian surveillance and COINTELPRO tactics that tear apart individuals, communities, and movements.
We have a responsibility to see through the smoke and mirrors, to criticize and expose how the State uses so-called “terrorism” to suit its interests by stirring up fears—and recognize that this political landscape is not an accident, but a State power that our organizing must take into consideration. And we have to not let Brandon, Connor, Doug, and Skelly be lost in the smoke and mirrors; rather, our support of them should be a beautiful showing of resistance through taking care of each other. When the State tries to take our loved ones from us, we have to still hold on in all the ways that we can through the walls of prison.
Through the narrative that the States creates in terrorism prosecutions, it seeks to tell a certain story. In doing so in the case of the Cleveland 4, the government succeeded in putting Brandon, Connor, Doug, and Skelly in prison, but that does not mean that it gets to write the rest of this story. That’s for us to do—to turn a government-crafted plot into a setting that’s lighted by an unwavering commitment to making sure that every anniversary of the arrest of the Cleveland 4 marks another year of tangible acts of solidarity.
Write and send books to the Cleveland 4, donate to their support fund, and let our solidarity with each other be stronger than the forces that would tear us apart. Take care of each other and make sure that Brandon, Connor, Doug, and Skelly know that we are here to take care of them.