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Chicago Takes Prisoner in War on Activists: Jason Hammond Arrested

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Chicago, Courtroom, November 2010:

"I made a mistake," Jason Hammond, 24, told the Cook County Judge, before he was sentenced to one-year probation for his anti-Olympics shenanigans.

Hammond's twin, Jeremy, was sentenced to 18 months probation and 130 hours of community service.

"I accept full responsibility for my actions," said Jeremy Hammond.

The Hammond brothers were convicted for tearing the paper packaging from an Olympic banner. It was being hung on a Picasso statue that was used to bolster the city's Olympic bid. The Hammonds felt that an Olympic nod would stretch the already scarce resources allocated to Chicago's working class and urban poor. The brothers had added a little performance hijinks to their civil disobedience. Ironically, Picasso, the artist as well as a member of the French communist party until his death, might have approved.
Olympics shenanigans. Jason Hammond, in red, is heard saying, "It wasn't him, it was me," as he tries to protect a dreadlocked Jeremy Hammond, followed by Jason and an unidentified hooded activist trying to pull Jeremy away from security. Daley Plaza, Chicago, September 30, 2009.

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Jason Hammond, the now 28-year-old twin brother of jailed hacktivist Jeremy Hammond, was arrested Thursday. Jeremy is the guy who crashed a book signing by a Holocaust denier and spilled red liquid on the books. Jason is the guy who can be seen playing his banjo or doing cartwheels at rallies. Thus, Chicago area activists were shocked when he was charged with armed violence, aggravated battery and mob action, in connection with the case known as the Tinley Park 5. The charges stem from a May 19, 2012, altercation between anti-racists, and white supremacists. Jason Hammond is charged with participating in the assault against white supremacists who were attending the 5th annual White Nationalist Economic Summit and Illinois White Nationalist Meet-and-Greet in Tinley Park, Ill. Hammond's bail is set at $100,000 with no bond.

The Reality Wars: Jason Hammond from Vivien Lesnik Weisman on Vimeo.

Last May I spent 10 days in Chicago talking to young activists that know Jeremy Hammond in order to flesh out a portrait of the young but already legendary Chicago hacktivist. Jeremy currently sits in Metropolitan Correctional Center for hacking into the private intelligence contractor Stratfor as he awaits sentencing. He released 5.2 million emails to Wikileaks, the Internet leaks website. The emails are today considered extremely important because they revealed Stratfor's surveillance activities against protestors and activists including those involved in the Occupy movement. The emails also revealed various media companies on Stratfor's payroll. Jeremy Hammond took a 10-year plea for the intrusion but still defended his actions saying, "I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors."

I am working on a documentary, The Reality Wars, about the targeting of hacktivists, activists and journalists by the government and I did my due diligence, speaking to everyone about Jeremy and his work. But there is nothing less cinematic than having a bunch of people sitting around talking about someone else, no matter how good the stories. This just wouldn't do. My new idea was to spend some on-camera time with Jason, the more outgoing, cheerful and artistic twin. I thought that if my audience got to see Jason play the banjo, hang out with friends and do his community organizing thing then I could draw parallels between the twins and, thus, bring Jeremy, though in jail, to life.

Jason invited me and my friends Peter Ludlow, a professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University, and subverzo, a New York activist and a subject of my documentary, to spend an unseasonably chilly Friday night at a community space in Pilson where Jason would be DJing. No cameras, he warned. I thought we would be going to an underground punk club or something equally as foreign to me. I was surprised to arrive at a jam-packed though comfortably toasty space filled with working class Latinos of all ages. The talk ranged from water rights to sustainable urban agriculture and hemp farms in Mexico. Jason Hammond and my friends seemed to be the only white people in the room. How ironic, it seemed, that I had come a very long way to feel so at home in this welcoming room in Pilson.

Let me quickly back track -- I am 100 percent Cuban. My father, Max Lesnik, a former Cuban revolutionary leader, is a legendary journalist, grassroots organizer and anti-Embargo activist. His magazine, Replica, as well as his person, were the targets of the CIA trained anti-Castro terrorists. In 2007, while I was making my documentary film Man of Two Havanas, I requested and received a heavily redacted version of my father's FBI file.

The document confirmed that while the FBI was investigating assassination attempts on his life and the nine bombings of his magazine, they were also gathering information on the purported victim, my father. My father believed that U.S. Policy toward Cuba was wrong. He wanted dialogue and peace between Cuba, the U.S. and the Cubans living in Miami. That particular view at that point in time was unacceptable. It's easy to see the parallels between my father's story and that of the Chicago brothers and their friends, current targets of the state.

Jason Hammond speaks after Jeremy Hammond's court hearing, April 10, 2013.

Okay, back to Jason. Since his arrest I have spent a great deal of hours speaking to many of his friends and supporters. No one from the police has spoken to me, nor have Jason's lawyers. I have heard the same story over and over again; the overreaching consensus is that Jason is incapable of the acts with which he is charged.

A friend of his of eight years who wanted to be identified only as Scott said,

There is not a violent bone in his body. I saw his then girlfriend destroy his banjo and he didn't raise an eyebrow as he said, 'Why'd you do that?' When I lived with him at Mount Happy [an anarchist collective of about twelve people], he would get up at the crack of dawn to make us potato pancakes. He's a goofball that feeds the homeless and rides a bike to his job teaching kids guitar. It's preposterous. No one will believe it.

We talked for over two hours. "I'm talking to you from my cellphone. I didn't need Snowden [a reference to the NSA whistleblower that revealed PRISM, a mass surveillance program] to tell me anything. I am worried that they're coming after me but you can use my name," said Scott with no last name.

Another friend who wanted to be identified only as Scurvy continued,

Jason may have run with all sorts cuz he loved everyone, but he and I did not smash shit up. We were much more into making spectacles of ourselves, cartwheels and handstands and all that. Sure we were part of the anarchist scene but we were not part of the fuck shit up philosophy. Jason was not one of them.

Before I hung up I asked again if I could use his name as he had initially introduced himself. His answer, "Best to just call me Scurvy."

I spoke to a father who was answering my questions as he tended to his young son. He was eager to paint me the picture of his world and that of the Hammond brothers. His name is Brian No-Last-Name. A new father at the time, Brian met the brothers at Food not Bombs, a group that addresses hunger through food donations and dumpster diving.

We came to Food not Bombs through these girls that offered to help with child care and we stayed because it was kid friendly and we could spend the day there helping feed the homeless. Jeremy and Jason were very active. A significant chunk of the left don't believe in state solutions and massive legislation drives, but rather local solutions, people based solutions. We don't have to wait for legislation to solve problems. Anti-capitalist or anarchist are slander terms in the U.S. It's equated with terrorist. Not so outside the U.S.

Brian was expressing views that are not within the limited smorgasbord of acceptable political discourse in America. I heard different renditions of these core anarchist views from law abiding working people repeated over and over again as they attempted to explain how they live, work and love.

I asked Brian, how he felt about the charges against Jason.

This is impossible to believe. It's just not true. The timing is off here. The way I see the situation with Jason is that Jeremy shed light on massive spying on Occupy and other criminality on the part of the government and Jeremy was made an example of. If you study social movements you see that the response from the authorities here is the standard package. First, you arrest Jeremy and in this very horrific way with this overreaching show of force with militarized police, automatic rifles, grenades and close off the street and for what, a Hammond brother, when you could just as easily picked him off the street that morning? I bet the house wasn't even locked. And [then] within two months of this happening, when Jason is scared shitless, he's involved in a vigilante action? No way.

Jason Hammond, who was present at the time of his brother's arrest, was detained on the premises and later released. I have heard countless activists voice skepticism and suspicion as to the timing of the alleged actions. Sue Crabtree, a nurse who runs Jeremy Hammond's support network and now also works nonstop to raise Jason's whopping $100,000 bail, said of the allegations, "Impossible, Jason is a sweet boy and, anyway, he barely left the house at this time. He was traumatized by his brother's arrest. No one believes this. No one."

Brian concludes,

This is a political case. The Tinley 5 were picked up last year. You have to ask yourself why now? Jason ran his brother's donations and worked in the support network. By locking him up now, they tax the network. And now they have to come up with $100,000 for Jason. Anyone who doesn't see how that serves the government is pretty naïve.



Follow Vivien Lesnik Weisman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/vivienweisman.