Michael Slate Interviews Sam Menefee-Libey on Trial of Inauguration Day Protesters

“This really is very frightening”

December 11, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


The following are excerpts from a December 1, 2017 interview on The Michael Slate Show on KPFK radio with Sam Menefee-Libey of the Dead City Legal Posse about the trial of protesters who were arrested in Washington, DC, last January 20, Trump’s Inauguration Day.

The Michael Slate Show airs every week at 10 am Pacific Time on KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles, a Pacifica Network station. The show can also be streamed live and people can listen to or download archived shows.

Revolution/revcom.us features interviews from The Michael Slate Show to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music and literature, science, sports, and politics. The views expressed by those interviewed are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere by Revolution/revcom.us.


Michael Slate: A few weeks ago I first spoke with Sam Menefee-Libey of the Dead City Legal Posse talking about defending the Inauguration Day protesters and about his involvement in taking up the fight around that. These are people facing 60 years in prison in a vengeful attack on the right to protest and especially the right to protest against the Führer—for daring to stand up and fight against the Trump regime. Sam is back to talk with us. Sam, welcome to the show.

Sam Menefee-Libey: Thanks for having me back, Michael. 

Michael Slate: OK, the trial has begun for six of the 230 defendants, known collectively as the J20 Defendants, who are facing a possible 60 years in prison for demonstrating against the Trump Inauguration. So Sam, what’s going on now? Where are things at?

Sam Menefee-Libey: Your listeners may remember that back on Inauguration Day there was an anti-fascist, anti-capitalist march where folks who were assaulted by police for over a half an hour and then eventually kettled and over 230 people were held and mass-arrested. They were blanket charged with felony riot. A couple months later, in April, there was a superseding indictment that added a bunch of different additional felony counts: incitement to riot, engaging in riot, conspiracy to riot, and five counts of property destruction charged under conspiracy liability. The judge finally at the beginning of November recognized the fact that the defense had identified right away, which is the fact that there is no actual felony charge for engaging or conspiracy to riot and so this was reduced to misdemeanors. Now there are 194 people left. The vast majority are facing six felonies and two misdemeanors and the first six are on trial this week. We just finished the sixth day of the jury trial.

Michael Slate: So let’s talk about this. Is there really evidence of something that would support a conspiracy to riot charge?

Sam Menefee-Libey: The government is presenting, throwing a lot of stuff out there. They’re showing a lot of video, they’re showing certain messages taken off of people’s phones and most of it is just planning a protest. There’s actually a video shown in court on Tuesday that was taken by the ultra-conservative right-wing propaganda outfit Project Veritas undercover. The U.S. Attorney’s Office elected to show a 35-minute video that was taken by Veritas despite Veritas’s long track record of deceptive and devious practices. Then the U.S. Attorney’s Office actually tried to hide the source of the video, originally, and tried to just say it was from a citizen. But the defense was able to note that it was from Project Veritas.

It’s a 35-minute video of a planning meeting of a protest. There’s lots of discussion of keeping safe and making sure that we are standing in solidarity with each other and that we’re dedicated to anti-racist principles. I think that folks are waiting a big bombshell, and instead it was just a protest planning meeting, that was then corroborated by an undercover police officer. We’ve learned a lot about the Metropolitan Police Department intelligence gathering practices in this trial, and it turns out that they have a standard operating procedure for infiltrating what they call “anti-establishment groups” that are engaged in first amendment activity. So it’s been a very interesting week and so far there’s been a very, very little particularized evidence of any of the six people that are actually on trial and most of the stuff they are actually presenting is just video of that day and meetings that they plan to protest.

Michael Slate: You know one of the things that really got me too is the whole way they painted this. I mean, it is true that this Veritas group has a reputation, a well-deserved reputation as, oh can we say, what? Pigs? 

Sam Menefee-Libey: Yeah. So there was very interesting testimony on Wednesday and Thursday from the commander of the civil disturbance unit of the Metropolitan Police Department that day, Commander Keith Deville, and he commented at length about how proud he is to facilitate people’s First Amendment rights. But then in the radio runs that they play, he repeatedly differentiates between protestors and anarchists and he seems fully preoccupied with anarchists. It was very telling to watch him repeatedly testify that officers used restraint despite emptying multiple gallons of pressured cans of pepper spray from MK-46 pepper spray canisters, which are nicknamed by the police as super-soakers, that they threw dozens of stinger grenades which have rubber cluster munitions and are concussion grenades. It was really stunning to see all of that and to have it constantly come back to the cops just totally, unabashedly talking about really profiling people.

Michael Slate: What they’re doing with this Project Veritas and the filming and all this other stuff and the cop being present in the meeting is that they really are trying to lay the groundwork to push a conspiracy charge straight up, right? 

Sam Menefee-Libey: Yes, yes. I mean the five property destruction charges, which are five of the six felony charges that folks are facing—that’s 50 of the 61 year potential sentence—are charged under conspiracy liability. So yeah, that is what they’re pushing, and we’re really learning a lot about how the Metropolitan Police Department apparently has a bunch of standard operating procedures for actually going after and doing intelligence gathering on first amendment activities. They do it surreptitiously with undercover officers, and it’s very disturbing. 

Michael Slate: Let’s talk about this other thing that’s been also very disturbing for anybody who reads about this—the precedent-setting moves by the prosecution demanding names and the email addresses of—are you ready for this, folks?—1.3 million people who visited the Inauguration Day protest website. They’ve also been allowed to search Facebook messages comments and friends’ lists.

Sam Menefee-Libey: Yeah, I mean there’s been a tremendous amount of overreach from the very beginning... The legal theories are incredibly broad and scary, the warrants that they’ve put out. They’ve even raided someone’s house on the strength of apparently that video that they showed in court, and took a bunch of stuff… just a bunch of innocuous things. They took his anti-fascist flag because apparently having an anti-fascist flag is a bad thing. The digital search warrants have been frightening. They were asking for IP addresses for folks who have visited DisruptJ20.org because Disrupt J20 was the umbrella organization that facilitated a bunch of autonomous protests that day. They’re just sort of repeatedly asking for things that shock the conscious of the average person, and we’re really stunned that a number of judges allow them to do so all over again—from the judge admitting the Veritas video as evidence to allowing the search warrants to go forth with only minor changes.

Michael Slate: Now let’s talk about Alexei Wood, a journalist.

Sam Menefee-Libey: Yeah he’s one of the six [people now on trial]. Alexei is a photo journalist who actually live-streamed the whole march, and so they’re using his video as evidence. But he clearly didn’t engage in any property destruction because he was live-streaming himself the entire time. They’re charging him with conspiracy along with everyone else. He and another journalist, Aaron Cantú, are still facing charges. Both of them are freelancers anyone who cares about press freedom should also be incredibly concerned about that. 

Michael Slate: When we last spoke, was it Alexei Wood’s camera work, his films, that they were trying to seize and use in the trial?

Sam Menefee-Libey: Yeah, so they did seize the camera and multiple SD cards. I think it’s actually creating more trouble for them than they were hoping, because it has a bunch of his photojournalist work on it and a bunch of his photographer-for-hire work on it. It supports the fact that he was, in fact, there as a photographer and as a videographer. But yeah, they seized all of his equipment, and they’re using his video, the live-stream video that he took, against everyone.

Michael Slate: It’s clear that the prosecutor is trying to build a conspiracy case. But basically from what I’ve read from what other people have said, and what you’ve said, they’re not anywhere near proving any kind of conspiracy case. So what are they doing?

Sam Menefee-Libey: You know, I think that is a big question. I think that they’re hoping to establish precedence for a lower standard for proving conspiracy. And they’re hoping to—they simply say that showing up to a protest that was publicly advertised as an anti-capitalist, anti-fascist march where folks should wear black, if you showed up and wore black and stayed after some minor property destruction, that you then were automatically part of the conspiracy. The judge has even had several really ominous rulings on sitting case law where conspiracy can be spontaneous and non-verbal so they really are pushing, that if you went to this protest and you stayed and you were still present after property destruction occurred, that means you become part of the conspiracy. It is terrifying.

Michael Slate: And if you raised an eyebrow there in the crowd, you can also be made part of the conspiracy, right? 

Sam Menefee-Libey: Yeah, they’re also saying that people chanting is evidence of conspiracy. This really is very frightening.

Michael Slate: All right, Sam, you have a wrap-up thing you want to tell people before we go?

Sam Menefee-Libey: My organization, DC Legal Posse, has been around but also Defend J20 Resistance has been great—and you can find more information on DefendJ20Resistance.org and you can donate money, you can provide support for defendants....




Volunteers Needed... for revcom.us and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.