J20 Activists go to Trial This Week
Executive Producer Eddie Conway speaks with Industrial Workers of the World organizers about the current status of their court case dealing with protests at Trump’s inauguration
EDDIE CONWAY: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway coming to you from Baltimore. On the day of President Trump’s inauguration, about 230 people were quartered off by the police and arrested for allegedly rioting. Others like Dylan Petrohilos weren’t arrested that day but charged later with conspiracy charges surrounding the allegations that they had planned the protest where a couple of windows were broken. This case has become known as the J20 case.
This week, the first group comes to trial. Petrohilos is with me in the studio today along with Isaac Dalto, an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World Union, who prosecutors say is also involved in planning the protest. Okay, this is massive legal case involving over 200 defendants. Can you tell me who’s involved?
ISAAC DALTO: There were about 230 people arrested initially, and about 13 medical personnel and journalist, and legal observers had their charges dropped pretty soon after we were indicted. There were, about three months after the initial charges of felony riot were levied against 214 of us, the prosecutor amended the indictment and charged everyone with seven additional felony charges, including inciting a riot, conspiracy to riot and several counts of property destruction. Some people have since taken plea bargains but the vast majority of defendants have chosen to go ahead to trial and I think there are 191 of us still awaiting trial. This week, the first seven of us are going to trial, and they are largely people who were either journalists, or medics, or had some other role in the protest, like that.
EDDIE CONWAY: This group is a large group. It consists of people that’s been allegedly charged with rioting, conspiring, etc., but you were arrested Dylan until several weeks later. Why are you included in this?
ISAAC DALTO: I was indicted at the end of April when the superseding indictment came out, along with two other people who were also indicted that day. The reason why, people like I got indicted was because of alleged planning and the beliefs I was behind the protest that day. On Inauguration that march was kettled off, police were incredibly violent that day. The Real News Network actually came out with much of the actual data that we have around how actually violent they were, right? And this was in response to some minor acts of vandalism, and stuff like that.
EDDIE CONWAY: I understand they invaded your house and took material? What materials did they take from your house?
ISAAC DALTO: So, the first thing that they took was an anti-fascist flag that had been flying outside my front door since the election of Donald Trump. That flag represented, to me it’s a show of resistance to this idea that fascism could get normalized in the United States. Apparently having anti-fascist politics has become in 2017, a fairly controversial political stance to have, right.
There’s been as many articles condemning ANTIFA, as there has been praising anti-fascism and the belief that fascism should be opposed. Along with that, there was numerous political magazines that were taken from my house, as well. These aren’t things that ended up in my actual discovery but cell phones were taken, a copy of In These Times was taken, copy of Nation magazine was taken. A banner that says ‘Kiss Capitalism Goodbye’ and stencils and different personal artwork also were taken.
EDDIE CONWAY: Like you say, a month later they invade your house, they look at materials that you have a right to have. Political material. Do you think this is a political persecution?
ISAAC DALTO: 100%. You can hear on the audio, for example, them talking, MPD specifically talking about, on the radio talking about the anarchist raid. And then setting up a trap. This is definitely them setting up political prosecution in the era of Trump. And this prosecution comes down, the DC DOJ, the Department of Justice, the District Attorney’s office, specifically, is a branch of the Federal Government. So, Trump is actually overseeing this in some capacity. So, this is literally Trump turning, criminalizing activists and protesters.
EDDIE CONWAY: So, now what do you expect to happen this week with these cases? And what does it look like going forward into the future?
ISAAC DALTO: So, two days ago we received some good news that the 2nd trial group, who will begin jury selection on December 11th, have had five of their eight charges dropped.
DYLAN PETROHILOS: And all dropped to misdemeanors.
ISAAC DALTO: Right. So, they’re no longer facing felonies, they’re facing three misdemeanors a piece. And a week before that, our judge ruled that two of the counts, engaging in a riot, and conspiracy to riot, cannot be considered felonies. We’ve essentially gone from facing down a potential 75 years in prison, to 60 years, to now 18 months for the current trial group.
DYLAN PETROHILOS: The December 11th trial group.
ISAAC DALTO: The 2nd trial group.
DYLAN PETROHILOS: The November 15th group…
ISAAC DALTO: The seven people currently on trial are still facing six charges?
DYLAN PETROHILOS: Yeah. They’re still facing the six felony charges and the two misdemeanor charges. That’s why people have been starting to say 61 years because that’s the, I think it’s like 61 years, plus like 15 days, or something. It’s an ax.
ISAAC DALTO: Regardless, I think this is a good sign for us and for our co-defendants. It shows that the house of cards that the prosecution has been building is starting to fall apart. And we’re hoping that we’re going to see a domino effect where these charges begin to be reduced against the vast majority of people being persecuted.
DYLAN PETROHILOS: With that being said, with the actual conspiracy, is alleging, is that the conspiracy began when someone named Dee & Mads went on a podcast on It’s Going Down, which is an anarchist publication, right. And talked about the protests that were happening after, in the wave after Ferguson. That was the beginning of the conspiracy to riot in the United States Capitol which there was no conspiracy to riot, right. People planned to protest that day. Specifically Trump, who came to power prophesying more policing, more police militarization, promising to deport every undocumented immigrant so it came to an ethnic cleansing, and so on and so forth.
The basis of the conspiracy is, is standard things that every protest has, like legal observers, like street medics, like a legal line was evidence of planning that people were going to do illegal things. And get arrested, right? That’s the reality that these are things that are standard in protests, every protest.
ISAAC DALTO: And I think that’s really the real danger here, right. Is that the danger is not just to ourselves or our freedom. The danger is to the future of civil resistance in this country. The government here is trying to set a precedent, a very literal, legal precedent, that would allow them to charge any protestor, or any dissident with a felony.
EDDIE CONWAY: You’re saying right now they’re in the process of trying several people in the next week or so, they’re going to try several more. How long is this gonna stretch out and how long will they have people under the gun, so to speak?
ISAAC DALTO: I was arrested on January 20th, and my trial is not scheduled until May. This entire ordeal will take more than 16 months for me, and more than 20 months for some of us. I think the last trial on the docket right now is in October 2018.
DYLAN PETROHILOS: The reality of the case is not about what a couple people did, it’s about turning resistance into felonies. It’s specifically trying to criminalize people for participating into protests. When what Trump was promising as he came into power, was a dystopic vision of the future and the people that were standing up to him, and resisting him were going to face the harshest consequences possible. The United States has a history of authoritarian crackdowns across the world, and this is us realizing that we need to, resist us.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay.
ISAAC DALTO: I’d just like to say as a member of the IWW, that this is not the first time in American History that our union has encountered this kind of oppression. During the Palmer Raids, World War I, there was a moment in time when every single member of our Executive Board was either murdered or in prison and we’re still here and we’ve weathered these kinds of storms before and we will again.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. Thanks for joining me.
ISAAC DALTO: Thank you.
DYLAN PETROHILOS: Thank you.
EDDIE CONWAY: And thank you for joining The Real News.