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ACT UP Member Responds to Pharmaceutical Propaganda & Media Lies

by Michael Bellefountaine Saturday, Jan. 12, 2002 at 2:39 PM
actupsf@hotmail.com (415) 864-6686 1884 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

The media is burying the scary prospect of quarantine for PWAs behind ACT UP criticism. ACT UP critics receive funding from the same pharmaceutical companies that funded Bush for president. Project Inform's Martin Delaney, ACT UPs' most ineffective lying critic, gets almost half his income from pharmaceutical companies!

errorEternal Vigilance
January 9, 2002
Michael Bellefountaine

"The condition upon which God hath given liberty to us is eternal vigilance."
John Philip Curran, July 10, 1790, Dublin Ireland

This post is in response to the numerous messages concerning the situation in San Francisco. We have received a number of requests for 'our' side of the story about the arrests of David Pasquarelli and Michael Petrelis. I will attempt to address a number of these issues as well as clarify a number of misstatements made on the various AIDS lists that have been brought to my attention. I can not speak for David or Michael, nor can I speak for ACT UP San Francisco, I can only give my perspective on the recent events. I have broken this up into sections; some directly related to the case, others about the situation in general which has made this a bit lengthier than I would have liked, but I feel all of this information is important. If there is something that I haven't addressed please call it to my attention and I will do my best to answer in a timely manner, I can be reached at ACTUPSF@hotmail.com.


As many of you know, David and Michael, in a full page ad taken out in the December 4th San Francisco Examiner, have denied the allegations of stalking, contacting children or family members, harassment, calling in a bomb threat, threatening someone's life, violating a restraining order, and throwing bricks through windows. I can fully understand some folks' desire to disregard their denials out of hand. When long time treatment activist and Golden Gate member Bruce Mirken was arrested by the FBI in a sex sting where he thought he was meeting a twelve year old boy with condoms, there were more than a few of us who wanted to publicly say "throw away the keys". However we refrained. So the desire to jump on this and run with it by people who oppose David and Michael's politics comes as no great surprise. What was a (pleasant) surprise were the number of folks who wanted a jury to decide the charges - not public opinion, and those who publicly stated the obvious: the bail is out of range with the crimes charged and the crimes charged are out of perspective to the acts alleged. I hope these folks find some comfort in the following information.

Initially we have allegations and denials but as the legal process moves forward more evidence is introduced. At this point, the defense has received all the government's evidence. This evidence, or the lack of it, supports Michael and David's contentions that they didn't do the most egregious crimes alleged. For example:


On November 13, 2001 the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article about a bomb threat called into their offices resulting in the evacuation of the building. Chronicle attorneys alleged the call came from Michael Petrelis after a series of calls made (allegedly) by Petrelis that afternoon. It has been interesting to note that many subscribers to AIDS lists have attributed this act to David apparently based solely on their dislike for him. To date, however, there have been no police reports, fire reports, arson reports or bomb squad reports turned over to the defense.

We have a declaration from a Chronicle employee, a note in Inspector Lea Militello's Chronicle timeline where she claims she received a call and recommended the building be evacuated, and a Chronicle story stating the building was evacuated. This is very flimsy evidence at best. It is hard to believe that Militello would receive a call from the Chronicle about a bomb threat, recommend an evacuation of the building and not follow up any further. Who went and oversaw the evacuation of the building, who gave the all clear so the employees could go back in, what was the name and rank of the officer in charge, etc?

Interestingly, though the pair has been charged with every conceivable charge in relation to these events, there are no charges relating to the calling in of a bomb threat. Of course people hear bomb threat and 27 counts including felonies and think it's all related, but not in this case. Neither David nor Michael are charged with placing a bomb threat, which is very telling in its own right.

Equally disturbing is the allegation presented to Judge Tsenin while she was considering the reduction of the bail, that a brick had been thrown through the windows of the Chronicle in an event related to David and Michael's calls. There are no 911 reports, no police reports, no pictures of the alleged damage and no bills submitted for the window's replacement. Many people can speculate why the SF Chronicle, owned by the husband of AIDS mega-spokesperson Sharon Stone, would risk it's credibility in this way, but clearly there is little to support the accusations of bomb threats and bricks through the windows.

It is important to note that the New York Times article (December 24, 2001) concerning the events surrounding David and Michael did not mention the bomb threat. Certainly if they were able to substantiate the claim, they would have included it in the article. We are talking about the evacuation of the major local print news media outlet after a bomb threat allegedly to coerce the direction of news reporting in a major downtown metropolitan area in the aftermath of September 11th.


There has been no evidence to date of either David or Michael going to the homes of any of the alleged victims. There has been a number of posts concerning this and it is important to note because it has been presented to the press and to two judges that David and Michael went to the homes of these people and intentionally contacted their children and other family members. However, though we have been through two separate hearings, there has been no evidence to support either of these claims. Although the prosecution has offered this orally as fact, there have been no declarations or statements to the police about either Michael or David having gone to people's homes or harassing children.

Interestingly, in the September 21, 2000 edition of Frontiers, a local Gay newspaper, there was a story about David Pasquarelli calling the home of Dr. Willi McFarland and telling his child that her father was a murderer. However, Dr. McFarland wrote a letter to the paper clarifying that he had been called at home but the incident with his child had not taken place. The resurrection of the leering lecherous fag preying upon America's sweet and innocent children is concerning to say the least. How many times will they be able to throw this accusation around before people begin to believe it?


Again, this is a very damning charge; Judge Tsenin gave this issue the most credibility in making her decision to keep the bail intact. There are a number of tapes of these phone calls, and it is clear that the person identified as David Pasquarelli in the first round of tapes is not the person identified as David on the second round of tapes, the ones allegedly violating the restraining order. Members of ACT UP San Francisco have listened to the tapes and have confirmed that the two voices were not from the same person. They also stated that this should be obvious to anyone listening to the tapes whether they knew David or not. Again David and Michael deny violating the restraining orders and the tapes seem to support them.

So what we are left with are a number of phone calls and the content of those calls. We don't seem to have flying bricks, bomb threats, stalking, harassing children and violating restraining orders despite what you may have read in the press or been told by the 'victims' and their supporters. In essence we have a phone zap.

What is most troubling about all of this is that the felony charges are coupled with penal code violation 1192.7 (c)(38). When this section of the penal code is applied, the DA's office is precluded from making any form of plea bargain. Though it is meant for violent crimes, this statute is attached to all of David and Michael's felonies. This means they will be unable to plead to lesser charges, even if they chose to do so.


Yes, they have appeared before three judges all of whom have upheld the bail. But as listed above they did so based on numerous oral statements by the prosecution alleging a number of acts that the prosecution has yet to charge (although they do have up to a year and could very well file charges in retaliation to this email). You can't blame a judge for high bail if they are hearing about bomb threats, bricks through windows and families being terrorized. Presently we are in the middle of a hearing to determine if the bail should be maintained at which all of the evidence will be presented.


The reason they are spending so long in jail is because of the holidays. A hearing that would only have taken a few days has been stretched over a month because the judge and one of the attorneys were on vacation. These vacations span the better part of five weeks, making a four day hearing a two month affair. The duration of time in jail shouldn't be an indication of their guilt, however the public perception seems to be 'if they didn't do it they would be out by now'. Its just not that simple. Martin Delaney of Project Inform stated that the defense kept this judge because they liked him. Ironically Judge Meeks is one of only a very small number of San Francisco judges that ACT UP members haven't appeared before in the past.


In the same post Delaney goes on to make the absurd claim that Michael Petrelis lied about his health condition and the refusal of jail personnel to get him proper medical treatment. I don't know where Delaney gets his information however, on December 14th, I was in court standing next to Michael Petrelis during an appearance in another matter. Petrelis told the court that he had a severe case of oral thrush and had put in three requests to have the medical unit look at it. The judge ordered Michael to be taken to the medical unit where he was diagnosed with thrush and put on medication. I was there. I saw it happen. Also I went to visit Michael on Christmas Day where he had a very visible rash, so raw there were open sores. This is, I guess, a result of an allergic reaction to the detergent used, however it looked painful. To publicly state that these men have the means to get out of jail and are choosing to stay there to build political support is, again, absurd.

Though the sheriff in San Francisco is very supportive of the Gay community he doesn't handle the day to day functions or oversee David and Michael's personal situation. He can not stop them from loosing weight. The reality is they are in jail, in a large city jail. And they would not be there if they could have their way.


People have claimed that because ACT UP runs a dispensary we should be able to pony up the million dollars to get them out of jail. Indeed Kate Krauss' statement that we are a $3 million a year organization and could afford the bail is baseless. In fact, I am so confident Kate just made that number up that I challenge her to produce the source. In what mainstream media did she read that we make $3 million a year? Like the AIDS numbers from Africa, if Kate doesn't like them she'll just make them up.

Fact is ACT UP's books are open to its members (and though he was not a member we let Terry Beswick, hostile reporter from the BAR, have a peek); we give almost 10% of our total sales (not profit, but total sales) to the indigent and, because of internal guidelines, could not spend that kind of money if we had it.

As for the building, a group of folks took out a loan for $1 million and used it to purchase the building where the dispensary is located. The mortgage is paid by the residential and commercial rent and the building is held in a trust. What is well known in this city, but not often promoted by our opponents, is that the trust document was constructed so that the building, or its value when sold, would be turned over to a non-profit in the community to continue ACT UP SF's work. In other words, these folks took responsibility for a loan and used that money to create something for the future. We would have been well within our rights to do all of this and keep the building, however we saw a bigger picture and took advantage of the opportunity. Additionally, when people support ACT UP they know they are giving to the future. It may sound corny to you if you do not support us or our work but if you do, not only are you getting pot, you are supporting a long term approach to promoting your politics. At any rate we don't have enough equity in the building to cover the bail for one of them much less both of them.


Normally, this would be the case. The police inspector on this case, however, is an officer named Lea Militello. Militello has spearheaded the police investigation of ACT UP over the past two years. Some of you may remember Militello. It is my understanding that she was the officer assigned to monitor ACT UP and Queer Nation back in the late eighties. During the "AB 101 Riots", a series of protests concerning (then) Governor Pete Wilson's veto of a Gay employment bill, Lea Militello was spotted by well known San Francisco protester, Peggy Sue, while Militello was video taping Gays at the protests for the police department. There was much speculation and media coverage concerning the amount of damage done to city and state property, and also that Militello would be identifying people from the video tapes. In an October, 1991 BAR article, Peggy Sue commented about Militello's taping at protests, "I looked right up at the little red thing and said, 'Lea Militello you are an acid wash lezzie sellout bitch and that can go on the record.'" Not much has changed. Far from being impartial, Militello has been assigned to ACT UP for years and has made it part of her career to be 'aware' of us.


Yes, longtime AIDS activists Michael Shriver and Jeff Sheehy along with other members of the UC San Francisco staff met with FBI agent Ken Bachi on November 19th. The topic of discussion was calls from David and Michael. Additionally the FBI, according to records obtained from USCF, met with officials at the CDC on November 20th concerning calls made to them. Though what is discussed at the meeting is not mentioned, what is clear in the notes is that UCSF tried to make David and Michael's actions also the actions of ACT UP SF, thus implicating the pot club. It is concerning that USCF feels free to experiment on the Gay community and if members of that community protest, UCSF calls the feds. Whether you like it or not, if you work with Mike Shriver, Jeff Sheehy, Steve Morin or Ellen Goldstein you are working with FBI informants. It is that simple.

Also of concern are the attempts to use the USA PATRIOT act in relation to ACT UP San Francisco, David and Michael. In written statements UCSF staffers have characterized the calls as threats and domestic terrorism. In what seems to be a coordinated campaign, District Attorney Terrance Hallinan called David and Michael terrorists in the November 30th issue of the San Francisco Examiner. I really don't need to get into all the aspects of throwing the word terrorist around after September 11th. To have such a liberal DA callously referring to phone calls as domestic terrorism should be very alarming; if it can happen to activists in San Francisco, it will happen to activists everywhere.


We must not loose sight of the original issue: what is up with the rates of infection of both syphilis and HIV? Both Michael and David have long histories of questioning the numbers released by both the CDC and the DPH. As I was going through the ACT UP SF archives I came across a letter dated August 8, 1988 written by Michael Petrelis to (then) New York Mayor Ed Koch questioning contradictions in AIDS numbers being released.

As many of you know in 1998 the federal government launched a campaign to eradicate syphilis in America. Since then the San Francisco Gay community has been targeted with endless scare alerts, full page ads complete with ticking time bombs, and full size posters of syphilitic dicks plastered with city clinic information at all the places we congregate for sex in the city. Additionally we have been subjected to claims in these government sponsored ads, and accompanying media stories, that not only are the numbers up but it is because of Gay male promiscuity.

Both David and Michael had contacted the DPH and asked for the data to support the claims of a syphilis spike especially in Gay men. Specifically they wanted to know the total numbers of tests given. On November 1st, Eileen Shields of the DPH sent an email stating the DPH is not required to keep track of how many tests are given and therefore the number of tests is not known. This is a major problem for both the DPH and the CDC. Without providing us the total number of tests administered we only know if more people tested positive this year than last. But that is not the whole picture. We know that the DPH has increased the numbers of tests given since 1998, these include increased testing in the prison system and the introduction of STD awareness week in local high schools. Indeed, according to the DPH's Monthly STD Report, the increase case numbers should be attributed to increased testing, a fact that isn't picked up by the media.

I hope the importance of this is clear. If in year one you test 10 people and 2 are positive, you have a ratio of 1 in 5, and can extrapolate it to the general population. If in year two, you report that 4 people are now positive and send out alarming news releases stating that the disease has increased by 100%, then, because 3 of those 4 people are Gay you also state that the surge is in the Gay population, you may be incorrect. If in year two you tested 40 people instead of 10 and 4 of them are positive, you have a ratio of 1 in 10, instead of your original 1 in 5. As you report that the numbers are doubling they are in fact being cut in half. As for the surge in the Gay numbers, if you target just Gay sex establishments and target Gays for testing in larger numbers than we are represented in society at large, your numbers are going to be skewed.

This is true whether we are talking about AIDS or STDs. And the issue needs to be addressed, not brushed under the carpet. It is important to note that we are talking about less than a hundred syphilis cases in San Francisco with a population of 780,000 people. To talk in terms of percentages without giving the total number of cases is simply misleading.

Some of you may remember the release about the increase of HIV infections in the city. They used the same shell game. Instead of basing the total HIV infection rate on the actual number of tests given and taking into account the number of positives, negatives and indeterminates from that number, we were treated to 23 "disease parameters". These markers, we were told, were more accurate indicators of rises in HIV infection. One of these markers, rectal gonorrhea, was touted as going up, however when the DPH released its monthly statistics, rectal gonorrhea was no longer listed and the claims of the rise could not be verified. After a public outcry (from Pasquarelli and Petrelis mainly) the DPH eventually released the numbers, which had actually gone down. This really happened and instances just like it continue to happen. I do remember a time when activists prided themselves in not only doing their homework, but doing others' homework as well.


Information on the Act can be found on the internet at www.publichealthlaw.net. However a December 14th email from Eric Ciasullo (and coauthored by Michael Shriver?) stated that this Act would simply codify existing law. This is not the case and it is scary that someone as prominent as Ciasullo or Shriver would say that it is. The clear fact is this law would allow the federal government to circumvent existing protections and enact quarantine. It doesn't stop there. There are provisions which would allow for the mandatory testing of entire populations based on speculation that they are infected. It also includes provisions for the confiscation of the property of those quarantined. This is a frightening bill and has severe implications for people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. (As well as those who can be tested for it.) While local AIDS groups spend their time joining the witch hunt for Michael and David, not to mention suing each other over bike ride fundraisers, the backers of this Act are promoting it across the state. And if you think this Act has nothing to do with people diagnosed with AIDS, please read the November 4th editorial in the LA Times - authored by Lawrence Gostin - who is also coauthor of the Act where his intent to use it for people with AIDS is made chillingly clear.


I don't want to spend too much time on this but felt I should at least address it. Michael Petrelis' ACT UP record speaks for itself. David too has been in ACT UP for years, co founding ACT UP Tampa before moving to San Francisco. Remember when anyone was able to be an activist, and if you were lucky enough to get paid to organize marches (at the Republican National Convention for example) you were called an organizer? Since when did you need certain credentials to be an activist? How can anyone just disregard the years of good work both Michael and David have put into the ACT UP movement because they disagree with their politics today?

Michael, David and ACT UP SF are not the ones trying to rewrite history here. ACT UP was never about a small group of people dictating the national agenda for everyone else. In fact the ACT UP of the eighties took great pride in regional autonomy. When did the national movement decide to goose step and exclude those who chose to ask questions? To say that a person who is a 'founder' has more of a say than someone else is very antithetical to ACT UP. If a 'founder' stood up in front of the ACTUP of the eighties and tried to dictate the agenda s/he would have been laughed / booed out of the room. Larry Kramer, and a number of other 'founders', vocally left ACT UP in the early nineties and declared the group a failure. Many former ACTUP members were its most vocal and damning critics. Now these folks tout themselves as 'founders' of ACT UP and issue edicts against people who stayed in the group, continued to go to meetings and did good work long after the 'founders' walked out the door.

I also don't have the same rosy reflection on the nonviolent ACT UP. It was the eighties not the sixties, remember? I find it funny to get a lecture about violence from Michelangelo Signorile who made quite a name for himself in April of 1990 when he rushed into the Geraldo Show's audience and punched a guy who called him a faggot. I also find it curious that Eric Ciasullo and Michael Shriver would be leading the way in meeting with the FBI and pointing fingers about violence. A November 29, 1990 Bay Area Reporter article (and an accompanying piece in the November 21st San Francisco Sentinel) reports of a demonstration where seven protesters jumped over a police barricade and rushed a building that housed the INS. The protesters ran into a line of police resulting in a video taped scuffle. Five of the seven protesters who were brought to trial were found not guilty, but the other two were found guilty in what the magistrate described as an excessively "aggressive and violent" act. Those two men were Eric Ciasullo and Michael Shriver.

Also, I am sure that no one can forget the deplorable display by members of ACT UP in the Berlin AIDS Conference in 1993, where they attacked and destroyed the presentation of a group of folks who (prophetically) dared to question the toxicity of AZT. Or at the same conference when Martin Delaney grabbed AIDS dissident Joan Shenton, an act more violent than anything ACT UP SF has been found guilty of. Or who could forget when G'dali Braverman went after Deeg Gold because of some personal slight ultimately resulting in the split at ACT UP SF?

As for harassing the media, I don't know if David or Michael did it but I am sure it happened to the folks who worked at the New York Native during ACT UP's heyday who were harassed for daring to explore non HIV cause of AIDS. I also don't know if David or Michael threw a brick through the Chronicle window but I do know that in 1992 windows were smashed out of Bush's Campaign Headquarters in New Hampshire after an ACT UP demonstration.

I don't use these few examples (and there are a lot more) to defend ACTUP SF violence. I deny such violence has happened. However, I feel it is important to challenge the revisionist history being offered as of late.

Also I feel it is important to correct a claim by Signorile. He states that ACT UP SF split over the issue of HIV not causing AIDS. This of course was not the case. David and I did not come to his city until 1993, two full years after the ACT UP chapter in this city was ripped apart. To blame this on us, to project again that everything was rosy in SF until we came along is plain revisionism. The very people, who oversaw the national decline of ACT UP, the splitting of chapters, and tailoring the movement into a treatment only vehicle, are the same ones still trying to shut ACT UP San Francisco down. Why am I not surprised?


So, where do we go from here? As David and Michael languish in the county jail and bills such as the Health Powers Act creep along we have a number of options before us. We could keep our community divided by staying at each other's throats; we could go on ignoring each other; or we could come to terms that we don't agree on everything. But there may be things we do agree on and we should start by taking a look at them. I offer a list that could be a starting point for discussion. We are aware of a meeting to be held this month on January 20 concerning the direction of ACT UP, maybe this could be an agenda item for those interested in reconciliation. These issues should be of utmost importance if you believe in the HIV /AIDS connection.

a. Work on raising David and Michael's bail and calling attention to their case. Clearly the bail is out of range with the crimes charged and the crimes charged are out of perspective to the acts alleged.

b. The unreliability of the HIV test. We can begin to discuss the HIV antibody test and how, after twenty years, we need a test that tests for the virus itself. At least we need to be honest with people about the test, and make sure they know there are at least sixty factors that could cause a false positive.

c. AIDS drugs once touted as a cure aren't, and AIDS advocates need to be able to talk openly about the potential side effects. Additionally, people with AIDS diagnoses who are not on the drugs need to be validated and included in AIDS discussions.

d. AIDS executive salaries should be capped. I don't think that anyone can defend the outrageous salaries being paid to AIDS executives. Like kids with their hands caught in the cookie jar, when questioned about their greed they parrot 'everyone else is doing it'. This wouldn't have been acceptable in the late eighties and it shouldn't be acceptable today.

e. There should be a cap on the amount of money AIDS service groups receive from the federal government and pharmaceutical companies. Also there should be thorough independent audits done by members of the community to make sure these agencies are accountable.

f. The community should review all numbers released by the CDC and local Health Departments as to the best of our ability. We should be aware of news outlets that just run research statistics without checking for accuracy first.

g. Coordinated national opposition to the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act.

These are my humble suggestions for a starting point, I hope many folks will have input and those of us who want to work together on some level will be able to move ahead. But to those who choose to continue to fight us be aware of this: If you don't think the past two months haven't emboldened us you are wrong. If you think that this has stymied our support you are wrong. We won't rest until David and Michael are safely out of jail and the real AIDS Incorporated criminals are behind bars. Don't underestimate us, we are on the move. We honor our fallen comrades from the ACT UP of old, our friends, by still ACTing UP. There are legitimate questions about where we are today in relation to HIV and AIDS prevention and education. Questions that can no longer be ignored or marginalized. They need to be addressed in a head on fashion and settled as best we can. Our community needs time to heal while we face the challenges of a war-happy Republican administration. We need to provide the leadership by working through our differences, the only question is: Will we make it happen?

Michael Bellefountaine
ACTUP San Francisco
January 9, 2002

NOTE: For the many of you who do not know me, I have been a member of ACTUP, in one form or another, since 1989. I started by going to ACT UP Boston and New York meetings, taking the Greyhound from my native Maine. It was not long before a group got together and formed a chapter: Maine ACT UP! I worked on a number of actions with the 'old' ACT UP. A group of us from Maine drove hours to the DDI/DDC protest that was held at Harvard Medical School. And of course when Tim Bailey and the rest of the Mary's came to scout Kennebunk Port, Maine for the Target Bush Action, they stayed at my apartment in Portland. While living in Florida, I was a member of ACT UP Sarasota and represented ACT UP on the state wide committee against discrimination. After moving to San Francisco I became the first paid office staff member for ACT UP when I was hired by ACT UP Golden Gate in 1994. After a short time there, I found myself at ACT UP SF. I have since tested positive for HIV and have been diagnosed with AIDS. It has been seven years; I remain drug free and healthy. I offer this simply as background information. I also wanted to acknowledge the editing, proof reading and research help of Todd Swindell, Betty Best and Karl Goldman as well as Mark Conlan of HEAL San Diego.


Please help support the effort to release Michael Petrelis and David Pasquarelli:

Contributions to The Direct Action Civil Liberties Fund
can be made online with a credit or debit card at www.daclf.org,
or checks can be mailed to the address below:

The Direct Action Civil Liberties Fund
Attn: Free Petrelis and Pasquarelli
PMB 101
100 First Street, Suite 100
San Francisco, CA 94105

Web: www.daclf.org
Email: info@daclf.org


ACT UP San Francisco
1884 Market Street * San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: (415) 864-6686 * Fax: (415) 864-6687 * www.actupsf.com
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