[Marxism] Repression directed against anarchist twitter

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Oct 6 16:58:02 MDT 2009

NY Times, October 5, 2009
Arrest Puts Focus on Protesters’ Texting

As demonstrations have evolved with the help of text messages and online 
social networks, so too has the response of law enforcement.

On Thursday, F.B.I. agents descended on a house in Jackson Heights, 
Queens, and spent 16 hours searching it. The most likely reason for the 
raid: a man who lived there had helped coordinate communications among 
protesters at the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh.

The man, Elliot Madison, 41, a social worker who has described himself 
as an anarchist, had been arrested in Pittsburgh on Sept. 24 and charged 
with hindering apprehension or prosecution, criminal use of a 
communication facility and possession of instruments of crime. The 
Pennsylvania State Police said he was found in a hotel room with 
computers and police scanners while using the social-networking site 
Twitter to spread information about police movements. He has denied 

American protesters first made widespread use of mass text messages in 
New York, during the 2004 Republican National Convention, when hundreds 
of people used a system called TXTmob to share information. Messages, 
sent as events unfolded, allowed demonstrators and others to react 
quickly to word of arrests, police mobilizations and roving rallies. 
Mass texting has since become a valued tool among protesters, 
particularly at large-scale demonstrations.

And police and government officials appear to be increasingly aware of 
such methods of communication. In 2008, for instance, the New York City 
Law Department issued a subpoena seeking information from the graduate 
student who created the code for TXTmob. Still, Mr. Madison, who was 
released on bail shortly after his arrest, may be among the first to be 
charged criminally while sending information electronically to 
protesters about the police.

A criminal complaint in Pennsylvania accuses him of “directing others, 
specifically protesters of the G-20 summit, in order to avoid 
apprehension after a lawful order to disperse.”

“He and a friend were part of a communications network among people 
protesting the G-20,” Mr. Madison’s lawyer, Martin Stolar, said on 
Saturday. “There’s absolutely nothing that he’s done that should subject 
him to any criminal liability.”

A search warrant executed by the F.B.I. at Mr. Madison’s house 
authorized agents and officers looking for violations of federal rioting 
laws to seize computers and phones, black masks and clothes and 
financial records and address books. Among the items seized, according 
to a list prepared by the agents, were electronic equipment, newspapers, 
books and gas masks. The items also included what was described as a 
picture of Lenin.

Since the raid, no other charges have been filed against Mr. Madison. On 
Friday, Mr. Stolar argued in Federal District Court in Brooklyn that the 
warrant was vague and overly broad. Judge Dora L. Irizarry ordered the 
authorities to stop examining the seized materials until Oct. 16, 
pending further orders.

Mr. Stolar said that the reason for the Jackson Heights raid would not 
be clear until an affidavit used to secure the search warrant was 
unsealed. But he said that commentary among agents indicated that it was 
related to Mr. Madison’s arrest in Pittsburgh, where he participated in 
the Tin Can Comms Collective, a group of people who collected 
information and used Twitter to send mass text messages describing 
protest-related events that they observed on the streets.

There were many such events during the two days of the summit. 
Demonstrators marched through town on the opening day of the gathering, 
at times breaking windows and fleeing. And on both nights, police 
officers fired projectiles and hurled tear gas canisters at students 
milling near the University of Pittsburgh.

After Mr. Madison’s arrest, other Tin Can participants continued to send 
messages, now archived on Twitter’s Web site. Many of those messages 
tracked police movements. One read: “SWAT teams rolling down 5th Ave.” 
Another read: “Report received that police are ‘nabbing’ anyone that 
looks like a protester / Black Bloc. Stay alert watch your friends!”

But even as protesters were watching the police, it appeared that the 
police were monitoring the protesters’ communications.

Just after 1 p.m. on Sept. 24, a text message stated: “A comms facility 
was raided, but we are still fully operational please continue to submit 
reports.” Nine hours later, a text read: “Scanner just said be advised 
we’re being monitored by anarchists through scanner.”

On Sunday night Mr. Madison said that the search of his home was an 
effort to “stifle dissent,” and added that several groups in Pittsburgh, 
including the summit organizers, had used Twitter accounts to describe 
events related to the meetings.

“They arrested me for doing the same thing everybody else was doing, 
which was perfectly legal,” he said. “It was crucial for people to have 
the information we were sending.”

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