MEDIA WATCH, RED SQUAD REDUX: Police spying in Chicago is (was, and will be) no joking matter, and has helped get people killed or jailed for long periods...

As dawn breaks following another couple of days of below zero cold in Chicago, the continuing entertainment provided by the trial of the so-called "NATO Three" for "terrorism" (on a Cook County charge of all things, not a federal indictment) is leading to some true silliness. On January 29, 2014, Tribune columnist Eric Zorn entertains by comparing the NATO Three to the Three Stooges, complete with a graphic to add to the fun.

Look Familiar? The faces of the white mob that tried to stop the Peekskill concert in 1949 foreshadowed the Southern mobs that arrived to stop the school integrations of the 1950s 1960s, and 1970s. But had Zorn bothered to go through the Tribune archives as late as 30 or 40 years ago, he might have noticed that the newspaper he opines for in 2014 was at the center of American fascism (that's the only word for it; debate it as you will quoting The New Republic if you must) and racism for decade after decade following its decade of glory during the Civil War. Whether it was calling for the legal lynching of the Haymarket Martyrs, the use of U.S. troops to destroy the Pullman strike, or the long history of red-baiting and union busting (right through the Tribune's busting of its unions during the 1980s), Chicago has a long history of this stuff -- and it's no joking matter. In fact, it's something that could use a bit of "sunshine" in the typical way of so-called "transparency."

Details are infinite, but a few are worth noting this morning.

1. The murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark by the "State's Attorney's Police" in 1969. Those who pay attention remember that the reasons the so-called "State's Attorney's Police" were able to locate the sleeping soon-to-be bodies of Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark at their home on West Monroe Street was that a police spy had provided a map of the apartment. And it was the Tribune that continue the cheerleading for the "courage" of the assassins long after Chicago Daily News reporter Lu Palmer had debunked the claim that a gunfight had erupted between police and Panthers by actually showing that the hail of gunshots all went in one direction -- into the victims as they slept.

2. The character assassination campaign by J. Edgar Hoover against Martin Luther King Jr. Throughout the 1960s (and probably before, although I have never gone that far back), the Tribune gave over its front page not only to lurid cartoons but to the "news" stories bylined (usually) by a hack named Koziol who took his information directly from J. Edgar Hoover's FBI files. The Tribune never owned up to the fact that it was a major instrument of libeling and slandering the Civil Rights martyr through its "news" stories. The current book "The Burglary" gives new insight into the way in which the FBI worked for decades on an agenda against "subversives" (which include virtually every group promoting the rights of Black people) while ignoring the real crime and threats to Americans, including those posed by the Mafia.

Although some of Howard Fast's fictional works (Freedom Road, about the Reconstruction South is a favorite) are very important, his reporting in "Peekskill USA" is as worth reading in 2014 in light of the "NATO Three", drone attacks, and other McCarthyisms of the Obama era as it was when first published in 1949.3. As part of a current events lesson, the Pete Seeger stories all over the Tribune and other papers today might include a reprise of all the times the Tribune and its allies during the "McCarthy Era" (which lasted far longer than the brief period that Joe McCarthy was a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin). The red-baiting that was long the trademark of the Chicago Tribune ("America's Greatest Newspaper") was part and parcel of a long support for Jim Crow and Lynch Law against black people that might be said to include the murders of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, which were in the tradition of the legal lynchings long advocated against "terrorists" and "Reds" by the Tribune. The agitation against Pete Seeger and other leftist entertainers during the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and into the 1960s and 1970s include cheerleading for the infamous attacks on Paul Robeson and others during the riots against the concert in upstate New York...

Which brings us to today's reminder that this stuff never stops. DNAinfo is reporting this morning (Janury 29, 2014) that one of the police provocateurs who helped bring in the now-infamous "NATO Three" case also went spying at the Heartland.

Activists Call Police Spying at Heartland Cafe 'Laughable,' 'Disturbing'

By Benjamin Woodard on January 28, 2014 8:00am @benjamdub

The Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood Ave. Facebook/TheHeartlandCafe

ROGERS PARK Activists who frequent the Heartland Cafe to dine and to organize said they were shocked and saddened to learn that undercover Chicago police officers had monitored patrons' conversations as part of an undercover surveillance operation to thwart violent protests during the 2012 NATO summit.

The spying revelations came about as undercover officer Nadia Chikko was cross-examined last week by defense attorney Michael Deutsch during the trial of the NATO 3 Brian Church, Jared Chase and Brent Betterly who are facing terrorism charges.

They were arrested before the NATO summit after authorities said they caught them with four homemade fire bombs.

"I think its appalling that a city, with so many murders that year, that they would squander resources on what was quite obviously a political vendetta," said Jim Ginderske, a member of Occupy Rogers Park, a group that holds meetings at the Heartland Cafe.

Since its inception, the cafe has been a political hub for the city's progressive leaders and grass-roots organizers. In 2004, then-Senate hopeful Barack Obama visited the cafe.

But the Heartland, at 7000 N. Glenwood Ave., is also a quiet neighborhood eatery known for its relaxed atmosphere, which left some activists and the cafe's founders disturbed that Chicago police may have been eavesdropping on their conversations.

"This is a particularly laughable case. If they got us on tape, they probably got us talking about giant puppets and LED displays," said Kelly Hayes, an Occupy member who planned at the cafe peaceful NATO protests using props and light-up signs.

Heartland co-founder Katy Hogan said all kinds of people over the years have used the Heartland as a town hall for progressive ideas.

"As activists, thats what we think life is made up of, working to change the world," she said. "Unlike the police force ... were not trying to listen in on conversations, we try to make conversations."

Co-founder Michael James, who also hosts a progressive, weekly radio show at the Heartland, said the news was really no news at all.

"I dont put it past the Police Department ... to spy on people," he said. "I expect that theyre going to do that."

James said it reminded him of the days of Chicago's infamous Red Squad, a collection of intelligence officers who spied on political activists in the 1960s and '70s.

Those political activists included himself and other "leftists, radicals or commies or whatever," James said.

"I also knew that the police could not only serve and protect, but the police could also be an instrument of coercion and control," he said, adding that police officers mocked him after the death of Harold Washington.

James had worked on Washington's mayoral election campaign.

He said the Police Department's resources could be better spent elsewhere.

"A new version of the Red Squad started up right when we dont have money to pay for the essentials," he added.

A Chicago Police Department spokesman didn't return requests for comment, but Chikko, the undercover officer, described her motivations in court.

"My reason [for going] was to hear if there was going to be any violence to the city of Chicago," Chikko said. "Violent anarchists go to peaceful places to recruit."

Flint Taylor works at the People's Law Office with defense attorney Deutsch and was in court when Chikko made her statements.

"It harkened me back 40 years ago when Michael James was young, and we were at the People's Law Office, and they had the Red Squad spying on us. ... They spied on everything and anything that moved and was left of center."

Other community activists, who use the Heartland as a meeting place and don't typically prescribe to a political bent, were shocked to learn that they could have been spied on.

Peter Hoy, a member of Rogers Park's Food Not Bombs group and LETS GO Chicago, which promotes backyard gardening, said it was "definitely upsetting."

He said "it was shocking to hear" that meetings he participated in to talk about how to "improve our neighborhood and city" could have been under the eye of the Police Department.

"We live in a society where there is so much surveillance of peaceful organizing even people who are dong the right thing can get caught [up in it]."

Hoy's partner, Molly Costello, felt the same way.

"Its kind of laughable because it's my understanding none of us is interested in any type of violent activity," she said. "Were all just here [to make] our community a better place."

Contributing: Erin Meyer


In Defense of Pete Seeger, American Communist

by Bhaskar Sunkara. January 29, 2014. Al Jazeera America

Stateside Communists were the underdogs, fighting the establishment for justice - the victims of censorship and police repression, not its perpetrators.

Pete Seeger at demonstration against the war in Vietnam, at the foot of Capitol Hill in 1969., Stephen Northup/The Washington Post/Getty Images,

When the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger died Monday at the age of 94, remembrances of him, unsurprisingly, focused less on his music than on his social activism. All the better - Seeger, the epitome of tireless commitment to "the cause," would have liked it that way.

Some comments were laudatory, praising every aspect of his advocacy. But most of them struck the balanced tone of The Washington Post's Dylan Matthews, who tweeted: "I love and will miss Pete Seeger but let's not gloss over that fact that he was an actual Stalinist."

Such attempts at balance miss the mark. It's not that Seeger did a lot of good despite his longtime ties to the Communist Party; he did a lot of good because he was a Communist.

This point is not to apologize for the moral and social catastrophe that was state socialism in the 20th century, but rather to draw a distinction between the role of Communists when in power and when in opposition. A young worker in the Bronx passing out copies of the Daily Worker in 1938 shouldn't be conflated with the nomenklatura that oversaw labor camps an ocean away.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, time after time American Communists such as Seeger were on the right side of history - and through their leadership, they encouraged others to join them there.

Communists ran brutal police states in the Eastern bloc, but in Asia and Africa they found themselves at the helm of anti-colonial struggles, and in the United States radicals represented the earliest and more fervent supporters of civil rights and other fights for social emancipation. In the 1930s, Communist Party members led a militant anti-racist movement among Alabama sharecroppers that called for voting rights, equal wages for women and land for landless farmers. Prominent and unabashedly Stalinist figures such as Mike Gold, Richard Wright and Granville Hicks pushed Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal to be more inclusive and led the mass unionization drives of the era. These individuals, bound together by membership in an organization most ordinary Americans came to fear and despise, played an outsize and largely positive role in American politics and culture. Seeger was one of the last surviving links to this great legacy.

American communism was different during those years. It wasn't gray, bureaucratic and rigid, as it was in the U.S.S.R., but creative and dynamic. Irving Howe thought it was a put-on, a "brilliant masquerade" that fought for the right causes but in a deceptive, opportunistic way. But there was an undeniable charm to the Communist Party - an organization that hosted youth dances and socials, as well as militant rallies - that first attracted Seeger. One need only reread the old transcripts from his 1955 run-in with the House Un-American Activities Committee to see the difference between the stodginess of the interrogators and the crackling wit of the young firebrand.

Stateside Communists were the underdogs, fighting the establishment for justice - the victims of censorship and police repression, not its perpetrators.

Seeger, like other party members, came to regret the illusions he held about the Soviet Union. He apologized for thinking that "Stalin was simply a `hard-driver' and not a supremely cruel misleader." But he never abandoned his commitment to organized radical politics. Along with Angela Davis and other prominent former Communist Party members, he helped form the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a democratic socialist group, in 1991.

Remarking on Seeger, Bruce Springsteen once said that "he'd be a living archive of America's music and conscience, a testament to the power of song and culture to nudge history along, to push American events towards more humane and justified ends."

In stark contrast to the role played by state socialists abroad, that's a good way to describe the legacy of the Communist Party at home, a legacy Seeger never recanted.

[Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin and a senior editor at In These Times.]


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