Code Pink Activists Convicted for Disrupting Jeff Sessions Hearing
Desiree Fairooz & Lenny Bianchi of the activist group Code Pink tell about their protest and the verdict, which they say was unjustifed
Kim Brown: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore, I’m Kim Brown. One of the early hallmarks of this Trump administration has been the crack down on some for targeted actions as well as a harsh reaction from law enforcement on protestors. Do you remember the confirmation hearings for then Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to become Attorney General? …
Speaker: The nomination is approved by the committee and will be reported to the floor. Meeting over
Protestor: Shame. Shame. Shame. You have furthered the nomination of a man who will not protect the vulnerable. That is why we have an attorney general. Shame
Kim Brown: As you just saw they were dragged from the gallery in the Senate office there on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday a demonstrator with the activist organization Code Pink was found guilty of disorderly conduct. Other people were also convicted of various charges related to that Sessions disruptions and today we are joined with two of the members of Code Pink who were involved in that action, Desiree Fairooz and Lenny Bianchi. We want to thank you both for joining us here on The Real News.
Lenny Bianchi: Hello.
Desiree Fairooz: Hi.
Kim Brown: So Desiree, obviously we have seen a lot of coverage of not only the demonstration right there in Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing, but your conviction on Wednesday is receiving a lot of coverage as well. So talk to us about what happened in court on Wednesday.
Desiree Fairooz: On Wednesday surprisingly we were found guilty. I was found guilty for disrupting Congress, and for raiding.
Kim Brown: What were prosecutors saying about your conduct and what type of penalties were they seeking as it related to your conviction?
Lenny Bianchi: The prosecutors haven’t indicated to us what they’re going to ask for with regard to sentencing. Each of the charges carries a maximum of six months in prison, and each of us are convinced on two charges. I believe there’s also a possible fine associated but I’m not sure what the amount of the fine is.
Kim Brown: So what were your thoughts as you heard what the verdicts were connected to the both of your charges that you were facing? What was your immediate reaction, and what were you thinking about how not only your rights have been impacted here, but the rights of other people planning actions to resist this administration, and what their consequences could be?
Desiree Fairooz: Well I was definitely disappointed in the verdict. We were hoping for a sympathetic jury. We were hoping that they too would be concerned as we are about a Jeffrey Sessions Department of Justice, and we were surprised.
Kim Brown: So Desiree, take us back to that day. Take us back to that moment inside the Senate chamber where you stood up and begin to shout. What were you saying specifically and who were you saying it to?
Desiree Fairooz: Well my action happened after my codefendant Lenny and Ty Berry were removed from the room, so it was moments later, minutes later after they were removed that Senator Shelby made a comment in his introduction to Jeff Sessions, that is why he was worthy of the position of Attorney General because he believed he would be unbiased and he would treat all Americans equally. I found that comment laughable. Involuntarily I let out a giggle. A few moments passed and then a young Capitol Police officer approached me as I was seated in my seat at that time, and said something to the effect of “Ma’am, please come with me.” I couldn’t understand why I was being removed.
We had followed the instructions of Capitol Police up and to that point as the members of Code Pink were all dressed in pink garb to look like Lady Liberty, and we sat down when we instructed to sit down, and put our signs down when we were instructed to put our signs down, and were cooperating and behaving as decorum required after the gavel was struck. So I was surprised that I was being removed for giggling.
Kim Brown: So Lenny if I have this correct, you were on Capitol Hill dressed in a Ku Klux Clan outfit, full with the pointed hat and the white robes, et cetera. Obviously this was a coordinated planned action on behalf of you and the other protestors, and on behalf of Code Pink, so what were you hoping to accomplish?
Lenny Bianchi: Well with regard to the action that I was involved in, it was myself and one other person. Our purpose was to have a little political theater, to have a parody, in which there would be members of the Ku Klux Clan that would welcome Mr. Sessions into the hearing room as he entered the room. It wasn’t really coordinated with any other actions of Code Pink, it was just an action that stood by itself. What we did was, as soon as Mr. Sessions entered the room, this was before the hearing had begun, the gavel hadn’t struck, there were according to the prosecutor about 500 people in this very large hearing room, so it was very noisy. Lots of people talking, and shouting and laughing and so forth.
As soon as he entered the room we stood up on our chairs with our outfits on, and began waving to him and calling out to him as if we were welcoming him as Ku Klux Clan. It lasted for about 13 seconds before the police hauled us out of the room.
Protestor: Thank you so much for being here for the people. What do we have to do? Wait a minute. You cant arrest me. I’m white. White people don’t get arrested. Wait a minute. What do we have to? Wait for the inauguration?
Lenny Bianchi: But we certainly didn’t expect to be arrested because we hadn’t disrupted anything, the hearing hadn’t begun yet. The room was already very noisy.
Kim Brown: Had either of you been involved with protest actions prior to Donald Trump becoming President, and if so have you noticed a difference in how law enforcement treated you then verses how you were handled in January?
Desiree Fairooz: Well I would like to say that we have participated in several hearings, and the reaction to the Capitol Police is never one that you can count on for sure, but normally they wouldn’t eject us for laughing. We participated in hearings where we held signs or banners, and then were removed if they didn’t want us to stay, and not arrest us, or we’ve been ignored totally and were allowed to stay at the back of the room where we were for the entire hearing. It’s not predictable. We did not expect that we would be arrested for what occurred that day.
Kim Brown: Do either of you feel as if your actions were commiserate with the charges that you faced and potential consequences from those charges that you both were convicted on in DC court this past Wednesday? Were you prepared to deal with the possibility of arrest and facing charges, or do you feel as if your First Amendment rights, your freedom of speech, your freedom to assemble have been violated in any way?
Lenny Bianchi: As Desiree mentioned, we have participated in other political actions, and at times we realize that there may be risk of arrest, and so we have to make a decision whether or not we want to risk arrest or not. In this case, we did not anticipate arrest. And so like in my case I was simply exercising First Amendment right as a private citizen does not leave their First Amendment rights on the hallway when they enter into a hearing. It doesn’t mean that they’re allowed to interrupt, that’s not what we did.
In Desiree’s case, all she did was sound for about two seconds, laughter. That’s all she did. It’s just absurd that she would have been hauled out of the room and arrested, and be facing two charges totalling twelve months in prison. That’s extremely harsh and just absurd. The cost of this to the government, to the people whose taxes pay for all of these things is just unbelievable. All the court appearances that we have to make, the jurors that came in, I’m sure it adds up to quite a hefty sum of money for something so small, so trivial.
We didn’t harm anyone, we didn’t use any threatening or obscene speech or any hate speech, nothing like that at all. We simply used our First Amendment rights to express ourselves which in regard to Desiree’s laughing, later on in the hearing there was other laughter as senators and others joked about Mr. Sessions and his relationship with his wife, and the audience would laugh. Someone even when he was questioned as part of a joke. Someone called out from the audience “Don’t forget you’re under oath.” So apparently at that time it was okay to speak out even during the hearing, it was okay to laugh even during the hearing. But I guess it depends on who’s laughing or what they’re laughing at as to whether it’s an arrestable offense.
Kim Brown: Last question for the both of you. Do you have any intentions to participate in any protests or resistance actions against the Trump administration going forward, even despite what you have gone through in regards to the consequences of this incident from January?
Desiree Fairooz: I certainly plan to. There are so many issues about this administration that we take issue with. We participated at the airport against the ban and in support of refugees and immigrants. We would appear at
Department of Justice when issues around Black Lives Matter and police brutality. We marched on issues of health, climate, so yeah we’re not going to stop.
Lenny Bianchi: To give you an idea, within an hour after we left the courtroom having been convicted, we were in front of the White House participating in a Palestinian riots demonstration in front of the White House with many other people. Whether they end up putting us in prison or not, we’re not going to be silent. We’re going to continue speaking up for those who suffer injustice because of policies of this government.
Desiree Fairooz: And we must continue speaking up because if we don’t use it, we will lose our right to do so. This administration seems bent on squashing the set, and I think the more people see that there are citizens willing to step out of their box, step out of their daily lives to speak out and stand up for our rights, I think more will be inspired to do likewise.
Kim Brown: Indeed. Well we have been speaking with Desiree Fairooz and Lenny Bianchi, members of the activist organization Code Pink who were arrested during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearings to become Attorney General back in January. On Wednesday they were convicted on a variety of charges including disorderly conduct. We want to thank you both for taking the time to speak with us and we wish you both the best of luck going forward.
Desiree Fairooz: Thank you for having us.
Lenny Bianchi: Thank you very much.
Desiree Fairooz: Bye.
Kim Brown: Thank you and thank you very much for watching and supporting The Real News Network.