When I went down to the Sedition Trial in 1989 (before joining the Toronto Anarchist Black Cross and pre-Arm The Spirit), the first person I saw when I walked into the courtroom was Richard Williams, and then, beside him, Ray Luc Levasseur. We smiled at each other and gave each other a clenched fist salute. An indelible memory and an indelible experience.
Richard Williams passed away in prison in 2005.
As one of his comrades wrote, Richard “was a life long anti-imperialist and socialist, one of the Ohio 7 who had been in captivity since 1984. Richard was a peace and justice activist, a revolutionary and a freedom fighter. He was the people’s soldier, a friend and an ally of the poor and oppressed, of the working class around the world.
As a young man Richard was inspired by the life and words of Che Guevara, and in his own life he became a true example of proletarian internationalism.”
What follows is an interview we did with Richard back in 1991, along with a couple of remembrances of Richard by his comrades and a couple of biographies written by Richard.
For more information on Richard, remembrances, etc, please check out: 4StruggleMag (Views, Thoughts and Analysis from the Hearts and Minds of North American Political Prisoners and Friends).
Statement on Richard Williams from Ray Luc Levasseur
December 8, 2005
The first time I met our comrade Richard Williams was in a safehouse, underground. For the next decade we engaged in a common struggle to provide whatever support we could muster to the downpressed—be they victims of apartheid in South Africa, or slaughtered in Central America—and to defend ourselves. It wasn’t until the last hour of the last trial that we were consigned by our enemy to different prisons. I would never see him again.
Richard, like many political prisoners, has never received the recognition and respect he deserves. He has been vilified in the media and ignored by the left—a shared experience by many political prisoners. But then, Richard never sought accolades. The brother I know is not ego driven nor laden with grandiose ideas about what others should march to. He has at his essence that uncommon quality of a revolutionary—feeling every injustice done to the poor and working people of this planet.
I know Richard well, having risked our lives together time after time. He never waivered when confronted with danger, and didn’t disappoint when demands upon us were critical. I’ve seen him act decisively when it took courage to step up, and step down in situations that required defusing. He’s all of that—a people’s soldier and friend.
A man of deep commitment and fiery passion, he dedicated his life to others. The fallout from that was not being able to see his own children during the most dangerous years. He made that sacrifice, but the longing for his kids was intense and it laid heavy in his heart.
Sacrifice. How deep the sacrifice for what we believe true and necessary? When the U.S. killing fields in Central America were littered with the bodies of compañeros and their children, Richard did not stand idly by. When apartheid drenched South Africa in the blood and suffering of African people, Richard chose to act. The lineage from prison and antiracist activist to underground guerilla is not difficult to figure—Richard has the heart, consciousness, and political perspective to take it to a brutal enemy.
He did it in his time, when time was of the essence. When he knew he had the strength and endurance for a protracted and extraordinarily difficult struggle. That time has now past.
The brother I know, who withstood 50,000 volt stun gun assaults and the rigors of solitary confinement, has fallen. This brother of such infectiously good humor, so respectful of elders, and without a cynical bone in his body, is dead. He chose to pass on in as dignified a way as possible given the inherently abusive conditions of his confinement. They never crushed his spirit.
Brother, I do not say goodbye, for there are no words for this in the language we know best. Until next time—among oak leaves, the feathers of a hawk, nurturing new life from a coral reef ….
I love you, Ray
Richard Williams: A Short Biography from Can’t Jail The Spirit / 1998
I am a single father and grandfather. I was born on Nov. 4th, 1947, in Beverly, Massachusetts, which is a small coastal city 25 miles north of Boston.
My mother was a factory worker and seamstress and my father was a machine operator. I have one sister younger than me by six years.
Just when the draft was getting heavy for Viet Nam I turned 18 and promptly received my notice. Like most working class kids, white or black, there was no easy way out of it. Either get drafted, join, or hide. I chose not to go. At 20 years old, I was arrested for having marijuana, which in Massachusetts was a felony. Given the choice of 6 months in jail or joining the army, I went to jail in 1967 and became ineligible for the draft.
I continued to have brushes with the law when in 1971 I was arrested for robbery in New Hampshire and received a 7-15 year sentence. I was 23 and faced five solid years in jail at least. I realized at that I was going nowhere fast – that I needed to change something- so I started with myself.
I became involved with trying to better the prison conditions I was in , which were deplorable. It was 1971, the year George Jackson was murdered, the year of the Attica Rebellion. There was unrest in most prisons, because overall the prisons were brutal and inhumane. I was elected chairperson of the New England Prisoner Association. Inside, I met with legislators, and participated in food and work strikes and protests for better conditions. I read a lot of history and worked in political study groups. I was locked up, beaten, and shipped out for my activities. I learned through study and my efforts that the struggle was much larger than my surroundings. I became a communist.
Upon my release I worked briefly for the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee. I went to work for the New England Free Press- a radical collective print shop- for almost 2 years. Along with Barbara, Jaan, and Kazi, I was part of the Amandla Concert in Harvard Stadium in 1979. Featuring Bob Marley, Amandla was a benefit concert to provide aid to liberation forces in Southern Africa. My role was as part of a People’s Security Force which provided security for the concert. We also did security work for the community- such as house sitting with people who were under attack by racists. We went to Greensboro, North Carolina in 1979 to protest the killings of Socialist Workers Party (SWP) members by the KKK.
I went underground to join the armed clandestine movement in 1981 and was captured in Cleveland November 4th, 1984, my 37th birthday.
I was convicted for five of the United Freedom Front bombings in 1986 in Brooklyn Federal Court. In 1987, I got a hung jury at the Somerville, NJ trial in the death of a state trooper during a shoot-out with Tom Manning. Next I went through a two year trial in Springfield, Mass, along with Pat and Ray Levasseur for seditious conspiracy and RICO. The jury refused to convict us. In December, 1991, I was convicted of killing state trooper Lomonaco in 1981 after my second trial on these charges in Somerville, NJ. I am to serve 45 years for the UFF actions when I finish my NJ sentence of 35 years to life.
As with all dedicated revolutionaries the government has caught they have tried to bury my body away in prison, while being unable to crush my spirit.
Biography / 1988
I am 41 years old, born November 4, 1947 in Beverley MA, which is a small coastal town 20 miles north of Boston. I am the oldest of 2 children in my family. My sister, who is 6 years younger than I is now married and has 2 children. I am a divorced father of 3 children – Netdake who is 12, Henekis who is 9 and Richard who is 18 by a previous marriage.
My father was a machine operator and my mother was a seamstress and factory worker. She also took in foster children for a while. My parents separated shortly after my sister was born. My mother, sister and I went to live in a cold water apartment. Money was very tight. Back then welfare was very different. There weren’t food stamps, but we were given government surplus food such as powdered milk (which I never got used to), velveeta cheese, spam and peanut butter. For a long time I viewed those things as a treat as we were lucky to get them.
My mother was made to feel like she was a beggar when it came to applying for welfare, so she did everything she could to not have to go down to city hall and ask for assistance. She got very little support from my father. My mother made sure we got food to eat but I know that she went without herself many times to feed us. I can remember going to bed with my mother and sandwiching my infant sister between us and hugging to say warm on cold winter nights.
Peer and parental pressure and the frustration of trying to make ends meet when there was no way she could, forced my mother to reconcile with my father against her will. IN the space of two years I went from a rat trap apartment to a one family home. I had moved 4 times that spaces of time and had attended 3 different elementary schools. My father had a drinking problem and he was violent at times especially with my mother and me. My sister was spared the violence as he knew he wouldn’t get away with it. Needless to say, he and I did not get along well and I was getting wild.
I went to school only up to the 11th grade, having missed a year due to a stint in reform school. I left home at 18 and went to live in Boston. Beverly was basically an all-white city at the time and it was a very racist environment. When I went to reform school at 15 I had my eyes opened up and my prejudices blown away. I met kids of all different colours and got along with them fine. I had not previously had the opportunity to know many black people. And, being a product of my surroundings, I had many racist attitudes. It is hard for any white person brought up in North America to say they are absolutely free of racism, but I will say that I lost a lot of my racist attitudes there in reform school. I really like some of those kids regardless of their colour. So upon getting out of there and returning to Beverly, I found it very stifling, very small town, very racist. I had outgrown many of their petty attitudes. I just sort of marked time until I was 18 at which time I left, as I previously said.
Shortly after leaving home and only a few weeks after turning 18 I received my draft notice. I did not go in for my physical. I wasn’t really politically motivated at the time, but I did not understand the war and I wasn’t going. At the time – 1966 – I was part of the counter-culture. Tune in, turn on, drop out. It was the hippy era. It was a fun time for me. I met many good people and had a real mellow time of it. But it didn’t last. At 20, I was arrested for drugs of which one drug, marijuana, was a felony at the time in Massachusetts even though it was under an ounce.
After spending two months in jail I was brought to trial and basically told by the judge that if I consented to sign up for the armed forces that my arrest would be expunged from the record. The choice I had was that or six months in jail. I took the six months in jail because by then I was totally against the war and because of the felony conviction I was exempted from eligibility.
I continued to get into trouble until I went into prison in 1971 sentenced to 7 – 15 years for a robbery. After I got into the prison and had settled down to do my time, I came to realize that if I didn’t change my outlook, my values and my goals, I would on in an endless cycle of in and out of jail. I started with trying to better the conditions around me (prison) which were terrible. I also began to read a lot, something I had never really done before.
I applied my newfound knowledge. I became a prison activist. Hence I spent a lot of time locked in my cell for supposed infractions and for participating in work and food strikes. My politics were formed on the hard edge of prison struggles of the early ’70s – Attica, George and Jonathan Jackson and so on. I helped establish a clandestine inner prison lending library made up of books sent to me and other by different book stores who at the time sent free books to prisoners. Many were political books. I was part of study groups that met to discuss the books we read. I was elected chair-person of the short-lived inside New England Prisoners’ Association of New Hampshire State Prison.
So, after 5 years of lock-ups, ship-outs and of helping in a small way to better conditions inside, I was let out. I got out with the clothes on my back, $80.00 and not much else.
With the initial help of my friends and my own initiative I began life on the outside again, but I was a different person from when I went in. Recidivism, which is very high, is at its highest right after a prisoner gets out. Because after a stint in jail it’s easier for someone to fall back to the old ways because its all they know. It takes a lot of determination to start up new and forget the old ways and not fall back on them when the going gets tough which it invariably will. That’s why many people go back to prison so soon after getting out because they go back to the way they know best – the same thing that got them in in the first place. There are just not that many incentives to want to change.
Soon after I got out I went to work for the New England Free Press for a period of almost 2 years. After that, I worked as a spray-painter, carpenter and mover. I did not affiliate myself with any political group organizations but I did make it a point to check out the various groups in the Boston area.
While I was in prison I had formed definite views on armed struggle. Views that I tested out on these various groups. I found out that while many people supported armed struggle abroad they wouldn’t even want to seriously discuss it in the context of armed struggle here in the United States – inside the belly of the beast, the importer of world-wide violence and terror.
I’m proud to say that I participated in the Amandla Concert in Harvard Stadium in July of 1979. It was a benefit for the aid of South African liberation forces, starring Bob Marley and the Wailers, Tito Puente and Olatungi.
My mind was made up even when I was in prison that I would join the armed clandestine movement at the first opportunity. And if I had to wait for some years to do it then I would wait, but I never lost sight that I would eventually join it.
I went underground at the beginning of 1981 and was captured on November 4, 1984 on my 37th birthday. I have been in prison for 4 years now. Two years ago I and 5 others were convicted of bombing various military reserves and corporate headquarters of some of the worst multi-national companies such as IBM and Union Carbide. I received some 45 years.
I am presently in Hartford going to trial in Springfield for Seditious Conspiracy and RICO. After the trial, I am to go for a retrial in New Jersey, probably in 1990, for the death of a New Jersey State Trooper. The first trial was ruled a mistrial when 7 of the 12 jurors voted for my acquittal. We continue to fight these charges to the best of our ability in and out of court even though it seems endless at times.
We will win!
Interview with Richard Williams on CKLN / Toronto / July 30, 1991
republished in Arm The Spirit No. 10
Meanwhile, In New Jersey…Richard William’s Trial Continues
As we reported in Arm The Spirit no. 7, anti-imperialist political prisoner Richard Williams is now being re-tried on charges that he shot and killed State Trooper Philip Lamonaco in New Jersey in 1981. In 1987, Tom Manning was found guilty of the self-defence killing, but the jury could not reach a verdict on Williams and a mistrial was declared.
During testimony, Manning has steadfastly denied William’s presence at the shooting and has refused to answer many questions from the state; arguing that to do so would violate “revolutionary principles of non-collaboration with the enemy, which is this case is the U.S. government.
In October, prosecutors used results of advanced blood tests as evidence, claiming that the blood from the car is “consistent with the profile of Mr. William’s blood.” These DNA tests are the only new evidence in the trial of Williams and such tests have never been used as evidence in a “criminal” trial in New Jersey until now.
Tom Manning began his testimony in November and on November 8th he demonstrated to the jury his shoot-out with Trooper Lamonaco. Manning has refused to answer questions about other comrades, stating that “I’m not going to talk about anybody other than myself and Richard. If it has something to do with the armed clandestine movement, which is something we are participants in, I can’t talk about it.”
This principled stand on the part of Tom has meant increased repression and harassment for Tom and his supporters. In a letter to a comrade, Tom writes that ” In one 6 week period I was in 5 different cells, each move an opportunity to ransack and confiscate more of my property. At court, I was kept chained in a cell while the metal walls were continuously pounded by as many at ten state troopers using boots and clubs – continuously for two and a half hours before I’m brought into court to testify.”
In the first week of December, over the objection of the Federal Marshals and the Bureau of Prions, Ray Levasseur was allowed to testify. Originally, the Federal Marshals and the B.O.P had argued that Ray was “too dangerous to move from Marion to New Jersey;” however after some legal wrangling, Ray was brought in under extremely heavy security and allowed to testify. Ray was on the stand for about forty minutes, and like his comrades, refused to answer any questions which could compromise others.
Interview with Richard Williams
Your retrial on these charges is coming up this fall and to start off, could you give us an update on the trial status and a description of the charges.
My second trial, the retrial, will begin September 23rd. That’s when we’re going to start picking the jury. We figure that might take a week or two and immediately after that we’ll start the trial, which should be sometime in the beginning of October. The trial should take about two months.
The charges stem from the death of a state trooper in December 1981 in New Jersey on Route 80. The charges specifically are murder and a related robbery and escape. It sounds like more that what it is. The prosecution came up with this hypothesis that Tommy (Manning) stole his gun back, but I don’t even want to get into that. It all has to do with the death of the trooper. There was no robbery as in a store being robbed or anything. They’re all rolled into the death of the state trooper.
This is the second trial, as you said before. We were tried at the end of 1986 and 1987 in Somerville, New Jersey – that’s were the new trial will be held as well – in front of the same judge, judge Imbriani. At that trial, Tom (Manning) was convicted of felony murder charges and was sentenced to life in prison plus ten, I think. Five or ten. When you get life, it’s hard to keep track of anything after that. I got a hung jury, which means they couldn’t come to a unanimous decision. To be convicted or acquitted, the jury has to be unanimous. The majority of the jurors voted for my acquittal, but because they weren’t unanimous, that makes it a mistrial. We’re hoping to win the second time around. The state has come up with some new blood testing, DNA testing, that is very dubious and is just something more to add into the trial to try and convict me. At the end of the last trial, the prosecution asked the judge if they could change the indictment and delete where it named me specifically as shooting the cop. In essence, what that’s saying is that they know I didn’t shot the cop, but I’m still being retried on these charges.
In political trials in the united states it is common for the state to try and prosecute the defendants as many times as possible – in order to both “send a message” to other activists as well as to try and set precedents which can be used in future political prosecutions. We’ve certainly seen this with you and your comrades, the OHIO 7, who have all been tried a number of separate times – in the case of the Seditious Conspiracy/RICO trial in Springfield you were tried on many of the same specific charges for which you had been previously prosecuted. How many trials have you been through at this point and how long have you been imprisoned awaiting the retrial?
I was captured on November 4, 1984, which happened to be my birthday – happy birthday, right – so I’ve been in almost seven years. We had a trial in Brooklyn on specific bombing charges in 1985-1986. That trial took about six months. We were all convicted of various charges, ranging from , at the most 53 years and the women getting 15 years. Then Tommy and I were tried in New Jersey on the cop shooting, and I’ve just explained that trial. Then we were all taken up to Boston and they were going to try us in Boston but through a lot of struggle we got a change of venue. They kept it in the same district but they moved it to Springfield, Massachusetts because basically, the judge agreed there had been too much publicity.
The Springfield trial took a year to pick the jury and year for the trial. In the process of picking the jury the judge and the prosecution worked it out that having all of us there was really to bulky – too hard for them to try the case – so the judge basically asked the prosecution if they’d like to cut loose some of us who were doing large amounts of time already, so that’s what happened. Carl (Manning) pleaded guilty to a deal – she didn’t rat on anybody or anything, she just pleaded guilty to charges and was sentenced. Barbara’s (Curzi-Laaman’s) charges were dropped. The charges against Tom and Jann (Laaman) were dropped because they both had a large amount of time, Jaan having 48 years on a state charge and 53 years on federal charges. They figure he’s going to be jammed up for quite a while. It was only Ray (Levasseur) and I who had only had the federal charges against us. That trial lasted two years. This is my fourth trial coming up, which we think will take a couple of months. So I’ve been busy.
Of course, the Seditious Conspiracy / RICO trial in Springfield ended with the acquittal of yourself and your comrades Ray Levasseur and Patricia Gros Levasseur.
The funny about that was that we were charged with Seditious Conspiracy and RICO charges. RICO is basically criminal charges, racketeering charges, which we strongly denied. The Seditious Conspiracy charges were basically political charges and going into the trial, we saw the most important charges to fight were the RICO charges. If we were to be convicted of anything, the Seditious Conspiracy would be the lesser of the charges to be convicted of. We don’t look at Seditious Conspiracy as being criminal charges, although they specifically are to the state. We fought all the charges and what happened was that we were found not guilty of the Seditious Conspiracy and we had a hung jury on the RICO charges, but the trial took two years. It was a defeat for the prosecution and they decided not to retry us on the RICO charges. So, it was a victory.
The state has shown quite plainly over the past number of years that one of its main counter-insurgency strategies is the attempt to create a situation where it can define political opposition itself as criminal activity. It was clear in the Seditious Conspiracy / RICO trail that the state was attempting to use yourself and your comrades as a test case to try and expand the “legal” parameters of “criminality” into political activities, whether above-ground “legal” activities or clandestine activities.
That was our main task in these trials, and still is even in the new trial. They always tried to say “This isn’t a political trial,” even in the Seditious Conspiracy trial. Now I don’t know what a political trial is if you charge somebody with with trying to overthrow the government by force of arms – and that’s not a political trial? That’s sedition. That’s treason actually, and we put that to them. We said, “Why don’t you try us for treason?” But they tried to downplay the politics and tried to say it was a straight criminal trial and our major task in all these trial has been to fight criminalization. That has been first and foremost. Of course we want to win the case, but you’re duelling on the enemy’s ground.
We do have faith in the people and we do have faith in the jury itself. I don’t know if I have faith in the jury system and the courts the way they are, but we do have faith in the jury as people. We always try to talk to and work with the jury and it’s worked out sometimes. In the Seditious Conspiracy / RICO trial, if you want to go by their laws, we were guilty because we were charged under RICO with some of the same things that we were charged with and convicted of in Brooklyn. In the Seditious Conspiracy / RICO trial they only needed to have two convictions of those same charges we had been convicted on in Brooklyn to show a pattern of “criminal” activity, i.e. RICO. But we were able to talk to the jury, explain to them our politics and let them see a little bit of ourselves, and they chose not to convict us of the RICO charges.
I think they did it, basically, because they believe in us. These were just basically white middle class people and we were able to get to them and show that we were at least sincere. If they didn’t agree with our politics, at least we’re sincere and the government, throughout the trial, showed how insincere they were. They did a lot of lying and a lot of manufacturing of stuff and we were able to bring that out. They have to show some of their true colours in front of a jury to try and convict you, and it is very vindictive what they’re doing. In comparison between us the prosecution, the jury went with us. They weren’t going to convict us.
And after that trial, you were sent back to New Jersey to face the retrial this fall?
Right. I was sent back here in December of 1989 and for various reasons the prosecution stalled trying to get time to do this DNA blood testing, and then finally they did it this spring. Tommy and I refused to give blood but they basically took it. We fought them and they just got a whole bunch of guards and they were able to pin us down and strap us to a gurney and stick needles in us.
Well, that leads into my next question about the conditions in Trenton State Prison, where both you and Tom Manning are being held. Tom is in the Management Control Unit (MCU) in Trenton and you were as well up until just recently. There have been more and more reports coming out over the past year about the conditions at Trenton and the brutalization of the prisoners by the guards and the administration. What are the conditions which you are facing especially since you are held under a special status called Special Housing which in some ways places you in a different situation than most of the other prisoners?
They’re turning Trenton into the maximum control prison for the state of New Jersey. Supposedly they send the “baddest of the bad” here and they’ve sectioned off parts of the prison and put up barbed wire and fencing, really turning it into a Control Unit. To put me in a state prison – basically I should have been put into a county jail – the governor had to sign an executive emergency order basically declaring martial law in my case, which means it suspends my rights. So they sent me to a state prison. Normally you can’t be sent to a state prison unless you’re doing time, unless you’ve been convicted, and of course, I haven’t in the state of New Jersey. Originally, when they sent me here I hadn’t been convicted of anything.
In putting me here they labelled me Special Housing, basically a pre-trial status. With that Special Housing status they have suspended all my rights which I would normally have as a prisoner in Trenton State Prison. Not that we have a whole lot of rights but there is due process, meaning that before they can sentence me to any isolation or segregation they have to give me a hearing. Well, in my case, being Special Housing, there’s no such thing as that. They don’t give me hearings, they just do it. Even Tom, once he was convicted of the charges, they had to give him a hearing to put him in MCU. Basically what happened was that they put me in MCU for a number of years.
This time around, when I came back, they put me in administrative segregation, which is a punishment unit, and I beefed about it. I said, “how can you put me in a punishment unit? I haven’t done anything wrong.” So they shifted me off to the Protective Custody Unit which is a place where there’s a whole lot of informers and people who, because of the crimes they’ve done or because they’ve informed on people, are really not considered people that the general population would let walk around without doing some serious harm to them. So they put me in the Protective Custody Unit which I strongly objected to. It too me eight months, but I finally managed to fight my way out of it and they put me in the Management Control Unit. It sounds weird to want to be there, but the Management Control Unit houses most of the political prisoners, and if I want to be kept any place, it will be where other political prisoners are.
A couple of months ago, they came in the middle of the night with the goon squad, which is a bunch of guards all dressed up on protective clothing and cameras, and took me and brought me here. I’m back in Protective Custody. My status as Special Housing means basically they can punish me without having to give reasons for the punishment. They usually say, when you press them, that it’s for matters of security or it’s to protect the population from me – depending on who you talk to and what kind of mood they’re in, you get different stories.
Basically, I’m in non-congregate status. What that means if that I’m not allowed to associate with any other prisoner here. Basically, that’s solitary confinement, I’m even recreated alone. Being non-congregate status, I’m not eligible for any hobby programs, meaning that in general population and even in MCU, if I wanted to paint or if I wanted to do different things for recreation in my cell, I’m not allowed to do that. I’m not allowed to associate with anybody, so I’m basically locked in my cell 24 hours a day, except for two hours on alternate days when I’m put out for recreation. I’m put out into a yard all by myself and I’m recreated. Now recently they have brought in a couple of other people who are in Special Housing status and they go out to recreation with me. But basically I’m in a type of solitary confinement with no due process. I’ve appealed to the department of “corrections” and get various answers back like “You’re pre-trial” or “You’re a security risk,” or whatever.
My visitors have to get prior approval from the prison. If and when they are approved, and some people have been disapproved, if they’re approved, they must make an appointment 24 hours in advance to be able to come in and see me at a window visit, that’s a non-contact visit. When they come into the prison they have to submit to a thumbprint and a photograph before they can come to see me. I’m allowed to have no contact visits whatsoever. Just for a point of reference, everybody else in the prison is allowed contact visits – MCU, everybody is allowed contact visits. Nobody’s visitors have to make an appointment beforehand. Anybody can come in and visit anybody in the prison, that includes MCU people.
So my status is a status that is a special punishment, it seems logical if you look at it in a sane way – you can’t really look at it in a sane way because their minds are not sane in the way they rationalize their treatment of me. Basically, I’m being punished for not being convicted. As I said, my co-defendant Tom, who has been convicted, has to be given due process before they can take away his contact visits or before they can restrict his “freedom” within the confines of the prison. Not so with me. I’m allowed no hearings. I have no contact visits. My visits are through a telephone and a window, and that goes for family. I applied for my mother, who lives in Florida, to come up and see me and I wanted a contact visit. They said she’s status just like everyone else. She comes in and she gets an hour at the window. So of course I said it’s not worth it. My people don’t have money. For her to come up from Florida, it would have to be a worthwhile visit, and I don’t see an hour in front of a window with a telephone as a very worthwhile visit.
Other places where we’ve been held have allowed contact visits. All of us have had contact visits in other prisons where we’ve been held and at no time were there any problems with the contact visits. So this is basically to try and break my will and interfere with my frame of mind in getting ready for this trial. It hasn’t worked yet and it won’t.
We’ve been seeing in the united states, during the last 10 years especially, increased state attacks against progressive organizations and liberation struggles – a continuation of the COINTELPRO-type programs we saw in the 1960s and 1970s. I know that you as well as your comrades have a long history in above-ground activism before choosing to go underground and join the clandestine movement. Could you talk about why you made that decision to go underground?
As you mentioned, COINTELPRO taught us a big lesson, or it should have, which I think a lot of people have actually forgotten. What COINTELPRO has done is shown that the united states government and its agencies will stoop very low and infiltrate all aboveground organizations. Any progressive organization has been infiltrated. The fact that it was exposed and the state said ” Now that you’ve busted us, we’re not going to do it any more” is full of it. They just intensified it and covered it up more.
A lot of us felt that to function in any kind of aboveground organization, you might as well just write a report to the police because you’ve been infiltrated. A lot of us figured that the best way to function would be beyond the eyes and ears of the government. The only way to be able to do that is to join the armed clandestine movement and to go underground and assume different identities, which means also cutting yourself off from the rest of your family and friends. Anyone who didn’t come with you, you didn’t contact ever again because then you’re putting them in jeopardy. Basically, that’s why. A lot of us felt that we could function better underground – do more, accomplish more, and not really have to worry about informs as much by going underground.
Do you think that lesson, the revelations about the organized states attacks on the movements, has been to a large extent forgotten by the Left in north america?
Well, I don’t know if it’s forgotten, but the problem is that you don’t know who in these organizations are informers. You don’t know who in the Left are paid informers. So the problem with being aboveground is that anybody can infiltrate the organization, any aboveground organization. An effective informer – i.e., a mole, to use their spy-talk – the state inserts someone into an organization and into a lifestyle early on so that they establish extensive credentials and they would be the last person that you would look at as being informer. Now, I’m not naming names. I’m just saying how they do it in the spy-world, so let’s interpret it and let’s put it into the civilian world. You don’t now who is reporting, it may be that the person with the best credentials in the one who’s an informer. They have their finger on the pulse of what every organization is doing and we shouldn’t think otherwise for even a minute. And I do think that some of the people on the Left do forget that there’s a lot of informers out there paid by the government to inform on you and they’ve infiltrated a lot of organizations.
Another problem that I see on the Left is that they forget to teach history, meaning that new people coming into the movement may not know abut COINTELPRO. They need to be educated about COINTELPRO. They government says they stopped it, and that’s a lie. They say they’re not imperialists, but the are, you know. So for the government, which is totally corrupt, to say they’ve stopped the program just means that they’ve found a way to cover it up even more.
Of course we had the revelations in the mid-1980s, which were not as widely publicized as COINTELPRO which came around the same time as the Watergate scandal, that the fbi again was monitoring and infiltrating the Central American solidarity groups and anti-intervention groups. A very similar kind of operation which was exposed only five years ago.
Well, basically it was a very successful program for them because they did sow a lot of bad seeds in a lot of good organizations by infiltrating them. They were able to turn brother against brother and sister against sister. They were able to infiltrate organizations and kill key people. They killed a lot of Black Panther people and Black Liberation Army people. They totally disrupted a lot of other organizations. So, for them, its been a successful program, so they’re not going to discontinue something that’s been successful to that degree, they’re just going to cover it up more. Just like you said about the Central American solidarity committee, it came to light in the 1980s they they’re still doing this. For us to think that they would have stopped would be totally crazy.
Do you think that we’ll see a resurgence in clandestine organizing?
It’s hard to say. I think it’s necessary for the reasons I gave – to be able to have any kind of successful organization could not be done publically. It could not be one which follows the rules that the government lays down for people to organize, because the rules that they lay down make it easy for them to subordinate any kind of organization. So we have to make up our own rules, and one of the ways to make up our own rules is to have groups, meetings and organizations that function clandestinely. I think there’s a need for it. If you’re asking if I see a resurgence in it, I haven’t yet seen a resurgence, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening. I hope it is happening.
My Friend Richard
by Jann Laaman
(Below are some words I wrote for and about Richard Williams, one week before he died. Sadly he never got to hear or see them)
Richard Charles Williams, my dear brother, my comrade, I could write a honk or maybe a screenplay about you and your life. It would be a righteous movie, action packed, principled, some real humor, and all built around a life of struggle and hope. Of course between revolutionary “need to know” principles and Hollywood’s comic book propaganda movies, it’s not too likely your real movie is going to get made just yet. But your revolutionary life, your warm good heart and your determined spirit of resistance will continue to inspire and guide those of us who know you and all those who will yet come to know you.
From our earliest days, 34-35 years ago, working together, struggling and having each others back, I remember how seriously you took the words of Che Guevara and how much you admired his life. You know I’ve always thought of you as embodying the true living spirit of Che. While you have consistently been reasoned and practical in strategic outlook, you have always been willing to pick up the struggle of oppressed nations and peoples anywhere in the world. You are a true anti-imperialist and humanitarian. Your entire adult life is a solid expression of the real meaning of proletarian internationalism. And if anyone is not real familiar with this term, go do a little investigating. It’s not only to see what kind of man Richard has been his whole life, but this world needs new and more socialists and revolutionaries in the 21st century – you could be one.
You long were a solid Marxist and Maoist. Besides the labels and “isms” though, if I had to briefly tell you about Richard, I’d say he is for real, a regular and nice person. He is someone you would want to be your friend and fellow worker. For me personally I have no dearer friend or closer comrade than Richard. We were there for each others children’s home births, and we put in some hours on pin ball machines in quite a few pubs and clubs. From construction sites (Richard was a good carpenter) to picket lines and yes, battle lines too, I feel proud and honored to have shared these with you my comrade, my brother, my friend.
Ohio 7 anti-imperialist political prisoner
December 1, 2005, Walpole State Prison