The Italian philosopher Umberto Eco is quoted as saying:
“If something cannot be used to tell a lie, conversely it cannot be used to tell the truth.”
I would wager that the inverse is also true. If something can be used to tell the truth, it can also be used to tell a lie.
When the news came to me that a song that I had created was being used as a tool to quell dissent, my heart sank. State repression of dissidents is nothing new, and history has shown us that those in power will use virtually every tool at their disposal to maintain dominance. It is still a very visceral experience to know that a work that I created was twisted to further such nefarious ends.
The details are still vague, but the crux of what happened is as follows:
A song that I made with fellow Chicago rapper Phillip Morris was used by undercover police in an attempt to cultivate credibility with a group of protesters during the 2012 NATO summit. In the trial for a group known as the NATO 3, a recording was played where an undercover officer (Nadia Chikko) was singing some of our lyrics during a meeting with some of the defendants. Thus, our message was reverse engineered to act as a kind of trojan horse to manipulate and entrap the defendants.
To put it bluntly, this is a travesty. Emotions aside, this situation begs the question: how can something like this be avoided in the future? Certainly one path would be to simply stop making music with a radical message, and thus cut off any potential for this type of abuse. For anyone who knows me personally, however, they would know that this would be impossible, and irrational.
The police and intelligence communities want dissidents to be paranoid and afraid. These institutions do not want us sharing a radical culture; especially one that is willing to advocate for change outside of the traditional framework of voting and consumerism (“voting with your dollar”). Any student of history knows that there are very few examples of kings stepping off their thrones after being politely asked. Similarly, the current State-Capitalist regime that is being spread across the globe (of which NATO is an institutional component), is not going to crumble from a wave of online petitions and placard holding.
Thus, the answer to the question posed previously is murky, but a ray of truth shines through. They used our music because of the fact that it connected with people’s disenfranchisement with “acceptable” methods of social transformation. They used our music because they know that radical culture can inspire people to take action.
This is not a discussion of violence vs. non-violence; it is a discussion of what will actually bring about an more equitable and just world. It’s time that we start asking the hard questions to ourselves, our families, friends, co-workers, and comrades etc. We need to build a diverse radical culture, but we also need to be vigilant to guard against those who would use our culture against us.
Brian Church, Brent Betterly and Jared Chase, we’ve never met, but please accept my deepest sympathy with your plight. Thank you for your collective sacrifice. You will not be forgotten. Prisons are terrible places, designed to destroy people’s spirits, but know that you are not alone in your struggle. I will leave you with a quote from Albert Woodfox (of the Angola 3), who said this after spending several decades in solitary confinement:
“I thought that my cause, then and now, was noble. So therefore, they could never break me. They might bend me a little bit, they might cause me a lot of pain. They might even take my life. But they will never be able to break me.”
Brian “Buzzkill” Brown
Free the NATO 3