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.
Today, April 27, is Brandon Baxter's 25th birthday. If you haven't already, send him a card! Birthdays can be especially difficult for prisoners as they are an extra reminder of being away from loved ones, so it's an important time to show community support.
And if you're able to, give Brandon a special birthday gift by donating to this donation fund. All money donated to that fund for the next week will be put towards Brandon being able to make more phone calls, a form of connection with his loved ones that means so much to him.
Brandon has been in the process of transferring the last few weeks, and he has now arrived at FCI Pekin in Illinois. Please take the time to send him a letter or card to let him know that people are thinking of him as he adjusts to being at a different prison. Also, his 25th birthday is coming up soon on April 27th -- so send him birthday wishes!
These weeks of dealing with transferring have been stressful for Brandon, but he continues to appreciate shows of support and ties to community outside of prison. So, please write to him, donate to his commisary fund, and order books for him to make sure he knows that we're here for him and will continue to be.
Send cards, letters, and postcards to him at: Brandon Baxter #57972-060 FCI Pekin PO Box 5000 Pekin, IL 61555
You can find instructions here (under "Donations") to make a donation to his commissary fund to help him to be able to purchase the personal care products he needs for being at a new location, and send him books from his wish list here.
Before it was the Cleveland 4, it was the Cleveland 5 -- but the fifth defendant, Anthony Hayne, cooperated with the government against the others in order to get a reduced sentence and so was dropped from receiving community support. Hayne has now been released from prison into a halfway house.
While people should know to be cautious of Hayne and remember that it is never safe to let him back into our communities, the real focus should be on Brandon, Connor, Doug, and Josh -- and the continued support they deserve.
As Hayne walked out of prison, the Cleveland 4 still have years left: Brandon has 3 years 9 months, Connor has 2 years 4 months, Doug has 5 years 3 months, and Josh has 4 years 7 months. These years that they still have left are because they chose to not cooperate with the government -- they instead chose to stay on the side of their friends, to not be pressured into turning their backs on their community. In return, they deserve community support.
Let Hayne's release from prison be a reminder that every day that Brandon, Connor, Doug, and Josh have left in prison should be a day that they feel our support. They're still in there because of their dedication to solidarity with others; we have a responsibility to show solidarity with them.
Thank you so much to everyone who has supported Brandon, Connor, Doug, and Josh since their arrest, and thank you to everyone who is new to supporting them. These past years have been rough ones for them as they've dealt with harsh prison conditions, periods in solitary confinement, transfers between prisons, and being away from their loved ones and communities. But support has been a beacon of light through the darkness -- the letters and books they've received, donations to their commissary funds, and efforts to raise awareness about their case have meant so much to them. It's their connection through the walls of prison.
And they need that support to continue. As the years pass, their case may fade in memory -- but we cannot let them be forgotten, and we cannot let the government's manipulation and use of "terrorism" prosecutions go unchallenged. Please continue to do what you can to show support for the Cleveland 4, whether that's writing a letter, making a donation, or sharing information about them. Every day that each of them is in prison is a day that they should know people care about them.
Write to them:
Brandon Baxter #57972-060 FCI Terre Haute PO Box 33 Terre Haute, IN 47808
Connor Stevens #57978-060 FCI Manchester PO Box 4000 Manchester, KY 40962