Radical media, politics and culture.

Harold H. Thompson, "A Defense of Anarchist Literature"

Bernie Roddy writes:

"Statement Against Censorship of Anarchist Reading Material Mailed to Prisoners"
Harold H. Thompson, #93992

Harold H. Thompson, #93992
Northwest Correctional Complex
Route 1, Box 660
Tiptonville, Tennessee 38079


In July of 1925 a school teacher named John Scopes went on trial in the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, accused of a violation of state law. His alleged crime was teaching the theory of evolution to his class in this state. The prosecutor advocating teaching only the religious doctrine Man is of Divine Creation and an advocate of the complete rejection of teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in Tennessee’s schools was William Jennings Bryan. Mister Scopes was defended by Clarence Darrow, a famous attorney of his time. Of course in the social climate of 1925 Scopes was convicted and sentenced to a moderate fine. Eventually, partially due to the worldwide publicity the trial received, the anti-evolution statutes were repealed and struck from state law. Tennessee society had evolved to the point of intellectual rejection [of the idea that] solely the Origin of Man set forth in Biblical passages was the only explanation of Man’s creation.Like both counsels in State of Tennessee v. Scopes, I’m arguing today about an issue I feel strongly about as it involves the pinnacle of human growth. At issue is the right of the mind to grow while the body it resides in lives in a negative prison environment. My future ability to seek and realize intellectual growth will be determined in these proceedings. I view the opposition position as a litmus test by a state government department to determine if prisoners will docilely stand by and allow the usurping of a fundamental constitutional right arbitrarily. I believe the 1st Amendment was specifically incorporated into the Constitution of the United States to protect all citizens’ right to seek information and grow intellectually without abusive government interference, government restricting those rights, or government creating prior restraints to chill the ability to seek and receive information by instituting state government department policies denying access to literature, printed word, and thought. I believe the 1st Amendment was specifically written to protect freedom of religion, provide and protect freedom of speech, inclusive of political speech in whatever form, and allow for a free exchange of ideas among citizens in a democracy. This is precisely how this country advertises itself to the world. I recognize no distinction between the minds of those free and those imprisoned when it comes to seeking information, growth, learning from one another, and exchanging ideas. A quest for intellectual growth is a continual, ongoing, lifelong pursuit of intelligent people.

There are many issues, and interpretations of issues, important to our lives. By far in importance are issues dealing with the quality of life and ability to grow as human beings. Sometimes government actions show it harbors a different interpretation than those living under that government of rights and issues, with those interpretations often influenced by political trends. I have found in life, though, there are two, often more, sides to everything, all issues, all stories. To believe otherwise would be to accept as gospel truth four great lies of our time. “Y2K will change life as we know it!”; “The check is in the mail!”; “This item is 100% guaranteed to work as advertised.”; and “Hello, I am from the government and I’m here to help you.” My side is I believe I have a fundamental right to freely exchange ideas with free individuals of the same political preferences as my own. My side is I believe I have a fundamental right to receive printed material dealing with my choice of political ideology.

When I hear of acts of civil disobedience, riots by demonstrators, or by law enforcement authorities in response to demonstrations, I’m curious about what caused those on opposing sides of an issue to clash. I want to learn about all sides of an issue, all sides of an equation, to learn about the catalyst which escalated a heated situation to the point of violence. Only after all the facts are in can I then make an informed decision, or choice, of which side of the issue I identify with at the place where the rubber hits the road. I refuse to accept one side over the other without knowing all of the details. I refuse to accept I am expected to subscribe to the reasoning of one side and not be permitted to acquaint myself with that of the other. Isn’t this what this country is supposed to be about? The freedom to seek knowledge, to learn and choose according to our own dictates without acts of persecution against us by government? In this case state government, represented by the defendants, wishes to have a distinction made between the rights of prisoners and the free to embrace a particular politics, and wishes to restrict access to political literature. When government at any level, anywhere, in the streets or prisons, can dictate to individuals which politics a person can, or cannot, subscribe to, then democracy has taken a holiday, has gone the way of the dinosaurs. There is not a wall between the Constitution and prisoners. Prisoners are supposed to have all the rights of ordinary citizens except those expressly taken away due to imprisonment. A prisoner’s ability to think and choose is not taken away after prison gates close behind them, exiling them from society and separating them from family and friends. Some prisoners even retain the right to vote, further buttressing a legitimate argument the government should not favor one form of politics over another with its captives.

As my choice of a political ideology I embrace anarchism. My choice of politics is abrasive and repugnant to prison officials. I do not embrace it due to a desire to destroy. I embrace it because I’m an optimist. I believe man is capable of governing himself. Maybe I’m a dreamer, but if I am I have a right to my dreaming if that is indeed the case! I don’t believe the worse in man would evidence itself but the best would rise to the surface if there was no government as we presently know it. I’ll briefly explain about Anarchism. The politics of Anarchism is a political preference which is taught about on college campuses as an alternative political ideology. Anarchism is an old political ideology with its roots in the working class and great thinkers. Michel Bakunin, Pierre Proudhon, Peter Kropotkin (Kropotkin’s “Conquest of Bread” and Bakunin’s “God and the State” is required reading on civil or government courses at some colleges), James Godwin, Malatesta, Colin Ward, Rudolph Rocker, George Woodcock, Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman, to name but a few of the great Anarchist authors. Contrary to popular belief and media sensationalism the politics of anarchism isn’t running wild in the streets committing mayhem, performing acts of terrorism, creating all manner of chaos, throwing bombs or perpetrating senseless acts of violence. Anarchism is man taking responsibility for self and others instead of paying the government gang to do it for you. There are as many diverse views of anarchism as there are anarchists. There are those labeling themselves as federated anarchists, anarcho-primitivists, anarcho-syndicalists, anarchist purists, etc., many schools of anarchism thought.

What is being put on trial here is an idea, a political theory. Anarchism ideology. Logically during this trial much is to be said about Anarchism printed material if in prison inmate possession it poses a perceived threat to orderly operation and security of institutions. My opinion is that such an argument is, to use an apt descriptive word, hogwash. If prisoners’ possession of such printed material and being allowed to discuss political issues with others of like politics through the mail poses a legitimate threat of any kind to order or security of any state penal institution, if their contentions are true, then I wish to hear fact specific details of when such incidents happened, not merely vague innuendos or profound judgmental proclamations replete with words like “might,” “may,” or “could”! I want to see or hear documented proof of incidents, not conjectures, exaggerations or questionable speculations followed by “what ifs”. I want to hear facts not word play smoke screens. You may hear the reason there are no documented incidents is because Anarchism literature is banned. I see something constructively faulty and wrong with such logic and could respond with a like quantum leap of logic which makes as much sense to me. I could say I’ve invented a mustard plaster I wear on my chest repugnant to Tibetan yaks and the fact I haven’t been charged and trampled by a yak is my proof the mustard plaster works! I took the same license with the truth as state officials do on anarchism literature posing a threat, and hopefully you won’t believe my mustard plaster story or their inherently faulty logic! Show facts not conjecture!

I will give you some facts. Anarchism’s political theory articulates a more or less coherent framework for understanding why resistance is to be expected. Reacting with irritation or even outrage to the exercise of obvious arbitrary authority is what I consider to be natural and human. Anarchism entails a relentless critique of power, whether power derives from a “legitimate” or “illegitimate” source. I think we all realize power frowns on criticism. Resistance to the arbitrary and capricious nature of authority and power is older than the theory of anarchism. It is those who directly suffer oppressive conditions who understandably resist. They do not need a poem, magazine, book, newspaper or letter to provide inspiration for resistance. Nothing anyone writes can compel prisoners to want their captors to behave humanely; they just have to confront their sufferings at the hands of those with power to control their every activity. No printed word can incite anyone with common sense and intelligence to do anything they don’t want to do in the first place. The sole reason for people becoming “incited” is the reality of their individual belief system being affronted, the strength of their convictions put to the test on a specific issue and their sincere dedication to the beliefs they dearly hold to in the face of, and when confronted by, adversity. Strongly held, sincere belief and conviction are the sole factors that prompt people to whatever action, or inaction, they decide to display in specific circumstances and situations. I have been inspired to action by only specific types of printed word. They are the Bible and the Constitution of the United States. That inspiration brought me to this courthouse today.

Tennessee Department of Corrections has banned receipt of anarchism literature by prisoners. The decision to ban receipt of anarchist literature in its prisons is ironic because anarchism literature is not banned from general public consumption nor in some other state and federal prisons. Nor is this ban uniformly enforced in Tennessee Department of Corrections prisons, or if it is then it is not done on a consistent basis, lending credibility to an argument [that] the definition of “anarchy” set forth in Tennessee Department of Correction mail policy is over broad and vague to the extent reasonable people can, and do, differ on meaning. I know this is true as animal rights and environmentalist movement publications, as evidenced by the defendants’ exhibits, has been rejected due to “anarchy” content even though policy does not state anything in policy about this type of printed matter. I take that fact from a good source as one of the defendants stated under oath answering a written interrogatory the departmental mail policy does not address animal rights and environmentalist literature in the rejection criteria it contains. However a Tennessee Department of Correction mail room employee looked at the printed material when it arrived in mail, instinctively knew or suspected it was anarchist material so it ended up at, to one of the defendants to this action, for a decision to reject it due to “anarchy” content. Further, anarchist publications denied to me were received by another Tennessee Department of Correction prisoner who swore to this fact in a statement made under penalty of perjury. It is ironic anarchism literature isn’t deemed a threat to public security. Why is it only in a system of incarceration with people under close scrutiny, supervision, and surveillance such a threat is perceived? In my opinion Tennessee Department of Correction’s administrators are blaming anarchism literature for the failure of their own policies, which is patently ridiculous.

Power is based on perception, self-image, obfuscation and mystification. On a day-to-day basis most of us are not controlled by laws. We know they exist but they don’t control our every action. We are instead controlled by intelligence, common sense, habit and a concept of right versus wrong. It could be observed we live in a symbolic fog, unconsciously and uncritically obeying laws and rules we had no part in making, that don’t always serve what we believe are our best or community interests. Power is self-hypnosis, it is our selves used against us, and sometimes governments abuse that power as history is abundant with examples. I am here in court today about what I consider, think and believe to be an arbitrary abuse of power. I believe I have a legitimate interest in receiving political literature of my choice, embracing a politics of my choice, and in freely communicating with those with similar beliefs as long as I am not breaking the law in any way. I believe I should be allowed to communicate with an anarchist group that provides legal information, if in no other way than providing funds for law books or searching out requested legal decisions on the internet at resource sites for use by anarchist prisoners. It is the Anarchist Prisoners Legal Aid Network. I fail to see any other legal aid organization symbolically knocking on the prison gates offering help through the mail.

State government has care, custody and control of my body 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and 366 days on leap years. My movement is monitored. I am told when to eat, sleep, shower, all aspects of my life are controlled to some varying extent. All but my mind is monitored but even there it appears there exists an apparent desire to control my thought, deny me access to ideas, to not only stifle free speech but stomp on it. Why? Because of fear of an idea, a political ideology abrasive and repugnant to prison officials. There appears to exist fear of inmate possession of a political idea and evidently a fear of people communicating about it! One defendant stated under oath approximately 10 Tennessee Department of Correction prisoners, out of somewhere between 22,000 – 25,000, receive anarchist, animal rights and environmental movement literature. This is a percentage of those receiving such materials of 1/2200 or 1/2500 of the entire state’s prison population, which is hardly a significant threat, or even a real threat. With that small percentage it sounds like much ado about nothing! The small number receiving these kinds of printed matter really doesn’t matter. It is the idea evidently feared but in trying to crush it out by denying printed material one of life’s truths is being ignored! The fastest way to make an idea, or malicious rumor, spread like wildfire is to attempt to suppress it!

The political ideology aspect of this trial boils down to state officials’ fear of thought. Thought! As “1984” Orwellian and absurd as that sounds in these enlightened new millennium times! Unlike Mister Scopes teaching evolutionist theory, I don’t teach anarchism. I don’t discuss it with others unless asked a specific question. I was taught as a child a person’s religion and politics are private matters. I simply want to be permitted to sit quietly and read about anarchism, animal rights issues and environmental issues, to enjoy freedom of thought. I simply want to be able to communicate with like-minded people. If I engage in criminal activity via the mail I see nothing wrong with law enforcement authorities prosecuting me. However I don’t wish to be persecuted nor punished due to my politics by incoming mail withheld due to a ridiculous fear of political ideology, an idea repugnant to prison authorities.

[Source: South Chicago ABC Zine Distro, P.O. Box 721, Homewood, IL 60430
Reprinted in Chicago ABC Zine #1 (July 1, 2002)