Anti-G8 Fallout: Learning from Past Actions in San Francisco: An Interview with Josh Wolf

Fault Lines interviewed Josh Wolf and Gabe Meyers, the two people targeted by the federal and local authorities after the July 8, 2005 Anarchist Action Anti-G8 demonstration in San Francisco. Anti-capitalist protests and demonstrations against the G8, WTO, and other institutions that represent neo-colonial domination and corporate globalization have always been met with more aggression and hostility than normal marches for peace. Granted, these demonstrators are often much more militant. With a police officer injured and a police car damaged, the authorities felt a need to subpoena and prosecute.

Fault Lines: The consensus is you were committing an act of journalism, and were protected under the California Shield Law. In some interviews you said that the Feds were on a witch-hunt. What kind of witches do you think they were after?

Josh Wolf: It seems they were after anarchists and anarchism in general. But it also seems like a multi-level attack on civil dissent, and on anyone who demonstrates against this administration going all the way up to the US Attorneys who were fired. Which couldn’t be that much farther from anarchism.

FL: Were you surprised at the support you received from the mainstream media?

JW: Yeah, I guess pleasantly surprised would be a good way to sum it up. It didn’t seem shocking; it seemed sensible. It sort of mitigated some of my distrust around the mainstream media, and its entirely being fucked to the core.

FL: You have described your video blog as transparent journalism, transparent in that your biases are open and transparent to all. What is the significance of radical media, independent media, and other media that is not afraid about taking stands in social justice movements?

JW: When it comes to civil dissidence, the mainstream media only covers from the cops’ perspective – to reinforce the status quo. Half of the dialogue is missing, so independent media and the alternative press fills in the other half of the conversation...

The mainstream news sources do serve a purpose, but if you look at it like there is a pie of information, that’s just one-eighth—one slice—out of the giant pie of things that we, as educated and informed people, should really stay abreast of.

FL: Going back to the Anarchist Action demonstration in San Francisco against the 2005 G8 Summit in Gleneagles, it seemed like two police officers in one cop car were the catalyst of the violence, by breaking ranks and going after the protesters instead of letting it die down on its own.

JW: That’s partially right. It’s not that the two police officers broke ranks with the tactical police force covering the demonstration; they were actually on duty patrolling the Mission. They were responding to a 911 call about vandalism by people in black, which was not at that time known by the dispatch to be a part of the demonstration.

FL: Not to justify violence against the police, but was the fallout caused by the police being overly aggressive in trying to disburse the remaining demonstrators?

JW: When you look at the policemen, you have to look at Shields and Wolf, who were the police officers involved in that thing, arriving on the scene. Prior to that [the police] were almost was weird, when they called over the loudspeakers to disperse, they were like, “The officers from the San Francisco Police Department order you to disperse. Failure to do so will result in you being arrested.” That sounded like something they don’t say, it was far different from their normal shouts. Then Shields and Wolf showed up and I guess got freaked out and decided that the best approach was to accelerate the car in the hopes it would force the protestors to disperse. Which is obviously a highly dangerous tactic. And their response to that was to chase after the two people they almost hit...was just obscene.

To give some context: The year prior there was a Reclaim the Streets demonstration on June 8, 2004, to correspond with the G8 Summit in on Sea Island. The police mass arrested 120 people. They surrounded everyone at 5th and Market and then arrested everyone who was there--there was no disperse order or anything. A number of those people did not want to give their names to the police so in a jail solidarity action about 40 people identified themselves as Jane and John Doe. The government refused to release the protesters until they gave their names.

They eventually worked out a deal that they would drop the charges, prior to them giving their names, which would be retroactively reversed if they didn’t give their names. So here we have a situation where some government entity was prob- ably seeking the names of protesters on June 8, 2004. So this just reinforces the thought that this was again just some sort of witch-hunt to identify those who were protesting.

FL: So the reason you stayed in jail for so long was not because you didn’t want to release your unpublished video, but be- cause you did not wish to testify in front of the grand jury about your video?

JW: They wanted the footage because they wanted all of the intelligence they could gather, but what they really wanted, which never really came out in court, was for me to testify and give the identities of those on the footage. After we had lost the fight in the 9th circuit level to protect the footage, we actually offered to show the US Attorney that there was nothing on the tape. We submitted a declaration saying there’s nothing on the tape. [My lawyers said] how about we just turn over the tape and you let Josh go. [And the US Attorney responded] “No, we need his testimony.”

FL: What do you say to those who say that your case was a waste of time because you weren’t protecting anything?

JW: There are some things that are worth fighting for, but when you lose the fight seeing that you are only protecting the right to fight it, you might as well just show them that you have nothing in your hand. It’s kind of like when you’re playing a poker game, you might want to bluff a hand, but when it comes to all in and you really have nothing, then there’s no reason to stay all in.

FL: It seems the federal government will continue to crack down on civil dissent, especially on those who should be protected and aren’t professional journalists. Do you see anyone else being put through the ordeal that you were put through in the near future?

JW: It will probably be someone related to the something like the Wen Ho Lee case, and I imagine it will be highly unlikely that it will be an independent journalist.