So this was the notorious one - the renegade, evil spammer, political deviationist. Eric David Stein. Juden. Banned from Indymedia Portland. Blocked by IP from posting because what he has to say might pollute the fragile minds of the kiddies surfin' in for brain training.
When I pulled up at his place, it looked like maybe he was makin' it. A nice little adobe house. Some chick playing guitar in the backyard. A big glass of cold lemonade. He came out and grabbed my hand.
"Owl, good to see you ya' freakin' bastard."
Next thing I knew I had a glass of lemonade as well. Like his, it was about 30% vodka.
"So Stein, how do you like playing Leon Trotsky to the Stalinist types up in Portland?"
He broke into a grin.
"Oh yes. That is the subject of this interview, isn't it?"
He took a sip of his lemonade and pulled out a matchbox. It had weed in it.
"I don’t like discussing politics while straight. Especially political correctness politics."
I nodded assent as he tamped some bud in a little jade pipe. Soon we were both buzzed.
"So where do we start? I write. People write back. Generally they all say the same thing."
He took another quick hit as the bowl burned down.
"Which is a variation on the theme that I should fuck off."
I nodded again and gave him my best interested-keep-going look.
"That's nothing surprising. It's always nice to write five paragraphs and have your opponents spend hours typing embittered rebuttals. Generally my policy is to ignore their comments - but I do read them. I consider it free tuition or market research."
He took another quick hit on the pipe and passed it to me.
"One fellow had some interesting things to say about my Scott Ritter critique."
I knew the article. Through A Glass Darkly: Scott Ritter's Raw Story or something like that. Scott Ritter was the UN inspector who had gone on national television before the Iraq war telling everybody that there was no was Saddam could have nukes and such. The left idolized the guy. To the right, he was worse than a traitor. Stein had carefully crafted a review which gave Ritter credit for being somewhat of a tough guy who speaks his mind; but then he tore into Ritter's views with the delicacy of a coked-up surgeon. By the end of the article, you were left with the impression that Ritter had overstepped his expertise and that his opinions weren't worth shit. No doubt, exactly what my Jewish friend intended.
"I thought this guy's remarks were kind of interesting. I actually agreed with him because the article made me sound a lot more centrist than I really am. So I broke my usual policy of not dickering with sock puppets." That meant people who post on the internet anonymously. "I composed a four word reply with a few links and posted them to the indymedia board. The post went up onto the board, but Within about four minutes, someone had deleted them. I tried to post again but that was it. Someone had nuked me. That was the last time I was posting anything from my computer at work."
I scribbled furiously. This was censorship by a group of people who claim to be a bastion of anti-censorship. Every time someone takes a cut, they decry creeping fascism. I even used them myself. Last time I was in prison my wife sent me a big dictionary. Slipped a joint behind the binding. So the warden had a rule: books have to come directly from the publisher. Marsha didn't know that. Busted. Not for the joint, fortunately. But the book went into the dumpster. That pissed me off more than the joint. So I floated a kite out to one of my buddies, actually by dictation over the phone: he posted my complaint to indymedia. Big headline about censorship blah blah. But I knew it wasn't really censorship. It was a control policy. I didn't like it. My kite was really just revenge on the warden. Stein kept going.
"So like a good radical I write them these conciliatory emails, hat in hand. I'm sure there must be a mistake blah blah. Really it makes me puke to think how much trouble I went through. Talk about the Mission of Indymedia and such. So finally after almost two weeks I get this shifty email...some guy off a server in San Diego. He tells me they all hate my guts because their software triplicated my email with a sort function so they're gunning for me now as some kind of stark spammer. As if a query to their central committee was like peddling viagra, right?"
I winced a little. I didn't think indymedia had anything called a Central Committee. I think Eric has a way with words that puts just the most subtle little bite into innocent seeming words.
"I had tried posting a link from Paul Wright," that would be the editor of Prison Legal News out of Brattleboro, Vermont. "this like hairy ass movie clip from the BBC. It showed how they treat people over at Huntsville or wherever. Some chick spits on the floor and they put her head in a cage. The bulls screaming at naked inmates forced to race on their hands and knees. Real Abu Ghraib stuff right here Hometown USA right? So it's blocked. Portland Indymedia won't have it. On account of it came from me."
He smiled. I couldn't tell if it was a smile of tolerance for script kiddies or if it was the smile of someone who is notorious and half-knows they should be.
"So I'm thinking maybe I'll just email it to them and ask them to post it while they dick around and decide if they really wanna take the rap for being Nazi-Goebbels-Censorbots OK. So I paste it into my email, the Film Buff account, and I get this picture of a little Politically Correct intellectual adding to my rap. In addition to being a spammer now they're gonna say I am emailing them links to porno films. I mean, the prisoners ARE naked. There is a warning on the link about graphic violence. So I picture as the thing snowballs maybe they email my boss at work the postmaster at my isp and they're gonna say he's spamming us with porno movies. I'm like, FUCK!"
I knew what he meant. Left wing movements tend to draw in a certain number of kooks who will play the victim card to a hilt. And if say an gray haired old woman with a stack of Andrea Dworkin books decides to set him up, the Paul Wright link would be a tactical error.
"So I wait around. Maybe they will eventually put two and two together and get four and realize that putting the IP block on me is stupid. They know it won't work. I can go to any other computer in the universe and post. Or I can post to any other indymedia on the planet. And I have. The other indymedias' took that press release in their Alternative Media section and these Portland kids just look like complete ingrates. Seattle has been running my Rachel Corrie article on their front page for over two weeks now. ALMOST THREE WEEKS!"
He beamed like he had won a Pulitzer. Actually, most feature articles at indymedia sites are scrolled off in a few days. OK, so it was a nice read. It had staying power. http://seattle.indymedia.org/en/2005/03/245205.shtml
"In a climate of saber rattling, Bible thumping and spurious
allegations, Rachels' spirit and her testament were run over with
rhetoric as ruthlessly as her body was run over by a Catepillar
Pretty nice words. And Stein a Jew. At least, I think he's a Jew. Or maybe he's like Vannunu, a convert to Christianity. Or maybe Jewish by blood, but a believer in Buddhism or Hinduism or a Wiccan. I didn't ask.I realized I needed to bring the interview back on track so I fed back to him what I had.
"OK so you're a long-time progressive activist. You were down with the WTO protests and Sac-Do and Miami. So worked on Headlands and now you're writing about Palestine. So then these, what shall we call them, these little crypto-fascist creeps cut you ---"
"No! I did not call them creeps. Let other people do that if they want. I don't stoop to the level of name calling. They can call me a troll and a spammer and a revanchist or whatever the fuck they want. But I am above all that crap."
The way he glared at me, I thought he was about to take a swing at my jaw. But he settled back into his chair.
"This is important because if indymedia starts ip blocking we're all screwed. It puts us at the death of Lenin. Lenin dies and Stalin takes over. The Trotsky purges start and the whole enchilada heads south. Only this time it's not Trots they’re after it’s trolls and spammers...get it?"
I nodded. "Right," I said. "Once they start labeling it becomes a closed loop of ad hominens."
Stein looked me dead in the eye. It felt like he had spoken to me telepathically and told me I was spot on.
"The problem has spiraled out of control to the point that they probably never will re-instate my ability to post. So sitting on their server are a set of numbers tracable back to me. If the FBI comes in with a subpeona, they're giving me up to the Feds no questions asked. Everything I ever posted, under any handle. Or if someone even FAKED my ip number and posted. Not that I'm worried. But the idea of an indymedia site creating a list of ip numbers, that's pretty stupid. Even if it's a list of people they hate. It's like the punishment for pissing off an indymedia control clique is that they dangle your identity out there for the FBI to pick up."
I got it. But I knew Stein had it wrong. Things were much worse. There was no need for a warrant. The FBI can surf in and hack the servers with a FISA warrant or a Patriot Act warrant. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act gives them a secret court hearing where they can get a secret no-knock warrant on you. Maybe if you post to Canada that makes you an international operative. Maybe you post to you hometown list serve but your email server is in London. So now they say you're dealing with Foreign Governments. BAM! First Amendment out the window. Yer halfway to being listed as an enemy combatant. Stein had more.
"Back in the day, maybe there was a personality conflict. And so yer booted out of the Committee to Combat XYand Z. So you move on and join something else, maybe the Coalition to Combat XYZ. Then you're at a joint action and there's your old nemesis from the Committee. They glare at you, you glare at them. Somebody looks at you both like a couple of pit bulls that need be kept separated.
You both feel ashamed and start falling over each other trying to show what good comrades you are.
After a while the whole split feels silly. Or, if you're Trotskyists, you immortalize the split over some arcane point of political philosophy. But these day's it's different. We've got the internet. Two people in a flame war on the West Coast and it erupts and the next thing you know the person has a worldwide reputation problem. And maybe then they stalk you and you start spending a lot of time cleaning your guns and practicing down at the range."
I winced. Again. Best not go there, I thought. But I knew what he meant. His name is on the line and some nameless sock puppet in the Portland IMC central committee - damn, now he's got me sayin' it – someone in the collective is on his ass. But I didn't understand why he didn't just blow them off. This guy must love Portland, or Indymedia. Or maybe he just likes a fight.
I wrote on my pad "Sakharov? Or just stubborn."
"Hey Eric, I don't think anybody gives a shit about Portland Indymedia. There's plenty of other sites. Good point about the IP numbers though. Can we smoke another bowl?"
"Yeah," he said, pulling out the pipe. "I got some Red Lebanese hash, wanna try some?"
That was like asking George Bush if he wanted to look at some new missiles. Pretty soon we were so stoned we both forgot all about whatever it was we were talking about. I stumbled to my computer and sent a draft off to some friends. And maybe some people who didn’t exactly think of me as friends yet. As Stein’s aikijujitsu instructor said, opponents – folks who didn’t yet understand the nature of the friendship.
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All Rights Reserved
1 IMC Activist Begins Anti-Censorship Campaign, Decries "Arbitrary" IP-Banning on by Knight Owl,
Reporting on Censorship Monday, Apr. 04, 2005 at 4:46 PM
Film Buff has contributed time, money and articles to Indymedia. Buff announced today that
"censorship, sadly, is running wild" at IMC-PDX. "Film Buff" contends that he was blocked from
posting at PDX through a technical procedure known as IP-Banning...
2 Remembering Rachel and Recognizing Oppression
author: Eric David Stein
Mar 16, 2005 15:27
The Bay area recently hosted a visit by Amy Goodman, spurring some debate but widespread
admiration. On Wednesday March 16, Democracy Now spotlights the Corrie killing, also hotly
debated in these parts. Stein asks if we recognize "sowing of bitterness, suspicion and
intolerance as crimes in themselves." http://seattle.indymedia.org/en/2005/03/245205.shtml
3 Through a Glass Darkly: Scott Ritter's Raw Story Interview
Analysis by Eric David Stein
March 21, 2005
When former Marine and UN inspector Scott Ritter "waged peace"
in late 2002, the war party panicked... http://jerusalem.indymedia.org/news/2005/03/161419.php?l=en
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