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Wanted for Attitude: The FBI Hates This Band

The Right-Wing Attack on Rock

HOW’S THIS FOR GOVERNMENT intimidation? In early August, a letter arrived on the desk of Priority Records president Brian Turner. Written on Department of Justice stationery, it was just three paragraphs long:

A song recorded by the rap group N.W.A. on their album entitled “Straight Outta Compton” encourages violence against and disrespect for the law enforcement officer and has been brought to my attention. I understand your company recorded and distributed this album, and I am writing to share my thoughts and concerns with you.

Advocating violence and assault is wrong, and we in the law enforcement community take exception to such action. Violent crime, a major problem in our country, reached an unprecedented high in 1988. Seventy-eight law enforcement officers were feloniously slain in the line of duty during 1988, four more than in 1987. Law enforcement officers dedicate their lives to the protection of our citizens, and recordings such as the one from N.W.A. are both discouraging and degrading to these brave, dedicated officers.

Music plays a significant role in society, and I wanted you to be aware of the FBI’s position relative to this song and its message. I believe my views reflect the opinion of the entire law enforcement community.

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THE LETTER WAS SIGNED by Milt Ahlerich, an FBI assistant director, who describes himself as the bureau’s chief spokesman and who says he reports directly to Director William Sessions. Ahlerich says his letter represents the FBI’s “official position” on the record by N.W.A. (Niggers With Attitude), hip-hop’s most streetwise and politically complex group. But he also says he hasn’t heard the song. Neither he nor the bureau owns a copy. Ahlerich didn’t ask N.W.A. or Priority for the oft-unintelligible lyrics; he got them — or something purporting to be them — from unnamed “concerned officers.” Ahlerich says the FBI has never adopted an official position on a record, book, film, or other artwork in the four years he’s worked there nor, so far as be knows, in its entire history.

Ahlerich claims writing the letter was justified because N.W.A.’s song, “**** Tha Police,” allegedly advocates violence against the police, (The group sings “Fuck the police,” but the album just uses blanks.) “I read those lyrics and those lyrics spoke of violence and murder of police officers. That to me did not seem to be in the public domain at all,” he said, strenuously objecting to implications that the letter was censorious or intimidating,

Ahlerich isn’t the only cop incensed by “**** Tha Police.” An informal police net­work faxes messages to police stations nationwide, urging cops to help cancel concerts by N.W.A., a group based in Compton, California. Since late spring, their shows have been jeopardized or aborted in Detroit (where the group was briefly detained by cops), Washington, D.C., Chattanooga, Milwaukee, and Ty­ler, Texas. N.W.A. played Cincinnati only after Bengal linebacker and City Council­man Reggie Williams and several of his teammates spoke up for them. During the summer’s tour, N.W.A. prudently chose not to perform “**** Tha Police” (its best song), and just singing a few lines of it at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena caused the Mo­tor City police to rush the stage. While the cops scuffled with the security staff, N.W.A. escaped to their hotel. Dozens of policemen were waiting for them there, and they detained the group for 15 min­utes, “We just wanted to show the kids,” an officer told The Hollywood Reporter, “that you can’t say ‘fuck the police’ in Detroit … ”

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In Toledo, N.W.A. performed only af­ter Reverend Floyd E. Rose complained publicly about police pressuring local black clergymen, “Rightly or wrongly, the perception in our community is that the ‘police think they have the authority to kill a minority,’ ” he wrote the police chief, quoting the song, “and that [police] think that every black teenager who is wearing a gold bracelet and driving a nice car is ‘selling narcotics.’ … I must say that while I do not like the music and abhor the vulgar language, I will not be used to stifle legitimate anger and understandable resentment.”

Anger and resentment are at the center of N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, a two-million seller that slices current r&b fashion to ribbons, then goes on to pretty up the latest in gang-culture bad-mouth­ing. It rocks harder than any other album released this year; if the abusive, profane language didn’t keep N.W.A. off the ra­dio, the sheer assaultive sound probably would, N.W.A. is, above (or below) any­thing else, not nice. But the profanity exists not for shock effect or as a bohemi­an art stance, but as an organic expres­sion of south-central L.A.’s half-hidden gang world. The group wouldn’t be half so politically important, or half so exciting, if they were just rap’s answer to Andrew “Dice” Clay. Much if not most of what the group has to say — especially about women, but also about drugs, guns, and the sanctity of private property — will make any civilized soul squirm. They don’t just épater les bourgeois, they rub its face into its own merde. This is music to make the blood run cold, and if only a dimwit would salute its values, only a fool would completely disrespect them.

As Reverend Rose and most everyone who has heard the song realizes, “**** ­Tha Police” isn’t about shooting cops. It’s about being bullied and tormented by them. A hip-hop barrage, the song tells of a young black man who loses his temper over brutal police sweeps based on appearance, not actions, like the ones fre­quently performed by the LAPD. In the end, the young man threatens to “smoke” the next flatfoot who fucks with him. The same point is made even more clearly in the “Straight Outta Compton” video, which presents docudrama footage of a gang sweep in which the L.A. police vio­lently round up street kids (played by N.W.A.) just for wearing dookie ropes and beepers. Finally, the kids retaliate — ­or to put it another way, defend them­selves. (Ahlerich isn’t so eager to mention that 339 Americans were gunned down by peace officers last year in “justifiable ho­micides.” Or as Brooklyn rapper KRS­-One puts it, “Who Protects Us From You?”) N.W.A.’s Ice Cube calls his songs “revenge fantasies.”

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

ADVOCACY? “The song does not consti­tute advocacy of violence as that has been interpreted by the courts,” says Barry Lynn of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It doesn’t come close.” As for saying “fuck the police,” attorney Charles Rembar, an obscenity expert, remarks, “It’s far more clearly protected than burning the flag.”

To Lynn, what is legally questionable is Ahlerich’s letter. He cites several court decisions that hold that government com­munications can have an unconstitution­al chilling effect “even if they don’t threaten direct action.” And Ahlerich says that his letter was not personal but an official FBI policy statement, albeit adopted “on my authority” without con­sulting his superior, Sessions.

Lynn says, “It would not violate the First Amendment for an individual working for the FBI to personally write such a letter. But it’s incredible for the FBI to send this kind of official letter to any person in the creative community.”

“Oh, I didn’t know they were buying our records, too!” Ice Cube told his publi­cist when she first told him of the Ahler­ich letter. “People overreact,” he told us. “Getting a letter from the FBI seemed kind of funny to me.” Does he feel threat­ened by what might come next? “No. Money conquers all. There’s a lot of peo­ple that’s making a lot of money off N.W.A. as far as record companies, dis­tributors, and concert promoters.” But by the end of the conversation, he was saying, slightly more seriously, “Maybe they’ll send the CIA after me, arrest me for treason.”

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INTERESTING AS IT is that Milt Ahlerich chose to have the FBI take an official position on a record nobody in the bureau has bothered to buy, it’s even more inter­esting that he can’t explain how word of that record’s existence reached him. Pressed he said only that he received a copy of the purported lyrics from “re­sponsible fellow officers.” He wouldn’t, or couldn’t, name them.

Police officials in Toledo and Kansas City say officers in Cincinnati faxed them the information about N.W.A. and “**** Tha Police,” according to Gregory San­dow the Herald Examiner rock critic who tracked the informal anti-N.W.A. cop network. Cops began receiving the anti-N.W.A. warnings in late spring, about the same time an article about the group appeared in the June issue of Rev­erend James C. Dobson’s Focus on the Family Citizen under the headline “Rap Group N.W.A. Says ‘Kill Police.’ ” Its readers are urged: “Alert local police to the dangers they may face in the wake of this record release.”

The article was written by Bob De­Moss, Focus on the Family’s “youth cul­ture specialist.” DeMoss formerly headed Pennsylvania-based Teen Vision, which produced Rising to the Challenge, the Parents’ Music Resource Center’s video. This video was recently withdrawn from circulation and re-edited after revelations that it ended with a phony endorsement attributed to Bruce Springsteen. The PMRC contends that they were not aware when the video was made that the Springsteen quote was false.

The Dobson/DeMoss/PMRC connec­tion is instructive and important because, while the Washington wives like to boast of their respectable affiliates (the PTA, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the political board members), they don’t like to admit their role in stirring up the Christian right. In fact, the PMRC’s offi­cial position is that it has no relationship with any group except the PTA and the pediatricians. It does everything it can to deny other ties.

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Since October 1985, when the PMRC coerced the Senate Commerce Commit­tee, composed largely of PMRC’s direc­tors’ husbands, into holding antirock hearings, rock has been attacked from city halls, statehouses, fundamentalist pulpits, and the executive echelons of the FBI. The PMRC has become a key link connecting right-wing Christian groups like Reverend Dobson’s with such theo­retically respectable entities as the PTA, the pediatricians, and PMRC advisory board members like Atlanta mayor An­drew Young.

Tipper Gore has been every rocker’s favorite basher, but the most powerful of the PMRC’s founders is Susan Baker, whose husband, the secretary of State, is now four heart attacks away from the White House. Susan Baker, who incar­nates the stiff-necked, antisexual Born Again, sits on the Focus on the Family board of directors. (Several members of the board come from the investment and banking business that James Baker, as secretary of the Treasury, “regulated.” Secretary and Mrs. Baker refused to comment on their ties to Dobson and his organization.)

Although the PMRC’s ties to the Christian right are numerous, the most crucial of them is Focus on the Family and Dobson. The ACLU’s Lynn says that with the breakup of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, Focus on the Family makes Dobson “the most powerful fundamentalist in the country.” Perhaps the flakiest of all the Meese Pornography commissioners, Dobson came to prominence as Ted Bundy’s final confessor, claiming that the mass murderer/con man’s crimes were the result of addiction to pornogra­phy. Dobson campaigns stridently against abortion, and his Citizen maga­zine is a forum for activists like abortion­-center terrorist Randall Terry and Nixon administration felon Charles Colson. His plan for American education calls for get­ting evolution out of the classroom and putting prayer back in. Susan Baker, as a director of this 500-employee, $57-mil­lion-a-year organization, presumably shares those goals. We know that Dobson shares her views on rock ‘n’ roll, because Citizen’s July 1988 issue ran an article on her complaint that record labels were dragging their feet on warning label compliance.

The rest of the PMRC’s ties with Dob­son aren’t so casual, either. In the June 1989 issue of Citizen, which contains DeMoss’s anti-N.W.A. article, PMRC exec­utive director Jennifer Norwood says. “We want music critics and organizations like Focus on the Family to disseminate this information to their constituencies. This is something that needs to be done.” Norwood insists that this call to Chris­tians to crusade against rock is the same as dispensing “consumer information” to moms and dads at the PTA.

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If Dobson is the most important of the PMRC’s Christian cronies, he’s far from the most dubious. None of the groups listed below is an official PMRC affiliate. But all of them use the quasigovernmen­tal clout and the credibility of the PMRC to legitimize their endeavors, and the PMRC shares many of their goals. Whether it also shares money, no one knows. The PMRC refuses to reveal the sources of its funding.

• The Back in Control Center, the Ful­lerton, California, “de-metaling/de-punk­ing” center, is endorsed by Tipper Gore in her book, Raising PG Kids in an X-­Rated Society. Its de-metaling handbook lists a variety of satanic/occult symbols, including the “six-pointed star represent­ing the Jewish Star of David.” Director Greg Bodenhamer, a former probation of­ficer, accused the rock group Kiss of us­ing the Jewish star to worship the devil; on more than one occasion, Bodenhamer has flashed a picture of Kiss members wearing such stars as “proof.”

Back in Control also produced Punk Rock & Heavy Metal: The Problem/One Solution, a 20-page training manual used by several California police departments. Printed over the name Sergeant M. Shel­ton, of the Union City PD’s now-defunct Youth Services Board, the manual likens rock ‘n’ roll to Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party and makes sure to point out that music can be used as a very effective medium of rebellion against the government. Besides the usual heavy metal targets, it also attacks “Huskerdo,” Rush, and Van Halen, and rock magazines like Circus, Hit Parader, and Creem. (Through the press office of her husband, Senator Albert Gore, Mrs. Gore said that Bodenhamer’s misrepresenta­tion of the Jewish star was a “mistake.”)

• Truth About Rock, the St. Paul, Minnesota, ministry of Dan and Steve Peters, pastors of Zion Church. The Peters brothers and their antirock writings have been repeatedly touted in PMRC litera­ture. The brothers specialize in record album burnings; they also condemn Tina Turner, among others, for non-Christian beliefs. (She’s a Buddhist.) The Peters also claim, “The Jewish star is the uni­versal symbol for Satan.” (Jennifer Nor­wood says the Peters brothers book Why Knock Rock? — recommended by the PMRC — doesn’t endorse record burn­ings. However, the book has a photo of the brothers at an LP bonfire.)

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• Missouri Project Rock, which was founded by Shirley Marvin, a lobbyist for Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum. Marvin cites an Eagle Forum meeting with Tip­per Gore as her inspiration, and an MPR brochure claims that it works in coopera­tion with the PMRC. A Memphis rock-­monitoring group called the Community Aware of Music and Entertainment Co­alition, praised in Gore’s Raising PG Kids, is also listed as an ally in MPR literature. (Norwood denies any PMRC ties with MPR and says she asked Marvin to delete its claim of one in the brochure.) MPR’s “musical director,” Reverend Shane Westhoelter, calls Catholics “cannibals, because they eat wafers which are the body of Christ.” Project Rock’s literature says that Bruce Springsteen has a satanic backwards message in “Dancing in the Dark,” and their infor­mation kit includes tapes from Victory Christian Church in St. Charles, Missou­ri, asserting that Hollywood promotes race-mixing, that the Holocaust never happened, and that Hitler didn’t write Mein Kampf. The tapes also refer to “Martin Lucifer King.”

• The American Family Association, best known for Reverend Donald Wildmon’s campaigns against Madonna’s Pepsi com­mercial, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Mighty Mouse’s sniffing of flower petals. Wildmon’s anti-Semitism finally led to disavowals by such erstwhile supporters as Archbishop John L. May of St. Louis, and the leaders of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren and the Mennonite Church.

Wildmon’s National Federation for De­cency magazine reprinted 14 pages of Raising PG Kids with permission, accord­ing to the book’s publisher. Mrs. Gore, through Norwood and her husband’s of­fice, claimed that she never learned of the reprint until we asked about it.

On September 14, Gore’s office said the Gores “have never and would never coop­erate with any effort in any way connect­ed to anti-Semitism … Mrs. Gore had no knowledge whatsoever and did not au­thorize in any way the excerpting of her book in the magazine of the National Federation for Decency. She does not know and has never met Donald Wild­mon.” Does this constitute a repudiation of Wildmon? Gore press officer Narla Romash said, “Yes.” Asked for a com­ment, a Wildmon official hung up.

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AS EVEN THE NEW YORK TIMES recog­nizes, bigotry is rock’s fastest-growing problem. Jennifer Norwood told us the PMRC has taken a firm stand on this topic, corresponding with the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP. Tipper Gore made similar claims on Entertainment Tonight September 22. Norwood says that the PMRC has been vociferous in its condemnation of Guns N’ Roses’ racist, homophobic “One in a Million,” though only after the song became na­tionally notorious did the PMRC attack it (for instance, on the ET broadcast). The PMRC didn’t mention the tune in its summer 1989 newsletter, a peculiar omission in that GNR’s “I Used to Love Her” from the same album was included in a list of objectionable “Top 40 Lyrics.” That song was placed under the heading Murder. The only other headings are Vio­lence, Sadomasochistic and Sexually Explicit.

Meanwhile, the record industry silently but effectively participates in the repression. Contacted about the FBI letter threatening N.W.A., neither the Record­ing Industry Association of America, the record lobbying group that numbers N.W.A.’s Priority label among its mem­bers, nor the National Association of Record Merchandisers, the lobbying group for record sellers, had any com­ment. Nor did Russ Bach, president of CEMA, the Capitol/EMI-owned compa­ny that distributes Priority. Billboard, the industry’s leading trade publication, has rarely taken an editorial stand against censorship. On the odd occasion when it has published anticensorship guest editorials, it has immediately fol­lowed up with articles by the PMRC spreading the same old half-truths.

At the National Record Mart chain’s July convention, a not-so-silent Russ Bach said that he has recommended to the labels CEMA distributes — which in­clude not only Priority, but Southern California Civil Liberties Union chief Danny Goldberg’s Gold Castle and Frank Zappa’s Barking Pumpkin — that they should more carefully scrutinize and sticker their albums. “It’s obvious that there is a wave of conservatism in this country,” Bach said. “If anything, we should err toward the conservative.”

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With a few exceptions (Zappa, Don Henley), rock stars have been equally si­lent. Most prefer to treat censorship as an issue that affects only the music’s vul­gar fringe: rap and heavy metal. Many still believe that the notoriety of a stickered album is good for business.

The PMRC would like to wipe the smirk from their faces. Its recent quarter­ly newsletters carry Red Channels-style lists of “Releases Without Consumer In­formation” (that is, warning labels) and “Releases With Consumer Information.” Norwood says this is legitimate consumer information; she was unable to specify either where her group draws the line in deciding which unlabelled albums to re­port, or why it does not report on records that don’t need labels. The PMRC doesn’t just provide consumers with neu­tral information. On September 22 Nor­wood told radio station KSD-FM in St. Louis that the PMRC “endorses” the Rolling Stones tour.

Aside from proving that even pleading guilty-by-implication with a sticker won’t keep the censors off you, this particular package of “consumer information” has other revealing implications. On the most recent “Releases With Consumer Information” report, every stickered act is black — including N.W.A., Prince (hon­ored for Batman), and L.L. Cool J. According to Norwood, this indicates that rappers are among the most compliant rockers; in reality, it tells you who the record industry most easily pushes around.

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Harsher days are coming, even for art­-rockers, college radio favorites, and main­stream stars. On the “Without Consumer Information” chart are a number of rap and metal records, but also Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Peepshow and XTC’s Or­anges and Lemons. The spring edition of the PMRC blacklist includes Iggy Pop’s Blah Blah Blah, the Rolling Stones’ Dirty Work, the Cure’s Standing on a Beach, the The’s Infected, Big Audio Dynamite’s No. 10 Upping Street, Simply Red’s Men and Women, and the Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack.

Although the PMRC has failed to get the record companies to comply with its deepest stickering desires, it has had far less trouble with retailers, who are much more vulnerable to picketing and boy­cotts. The 130-store Hastings chain now is refusing to sell certain rap and heavy metal records to minors; Camelot Music told Billboard that it would pull records from stores rather than be picketed. The PMRC says it doesn’t want government legislation against rock, and no wonder — ­look how effectively the marketplace does the job. But as the FBI has shown, legis­lation isn’t the only way for the the gov­ernment to become involved.

The record industry is testing the civil liberties idea that, for every inch the cen­sors are given, they’ll demand a kilome­ter. The major labels and distributors’ November 1985 concession to the PMRC, which created the warning labels, is an implicit guilty plea that gave Susan Bak­er and Tipper Gore the credentials to write a Newsweek column conflating the tabloid connection between rap and the Central Park rape and the need to control what our children hear. (You can be sure that they won’t be contributing a piece on the connections between bel canto and Bensonhurst.)

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Not everyone is so cowardly. In Rapid City, South Dakota, the local PMRC af­filiate tried to get city officials to block a June 16 Metallica/Cult show. Opposed by citizens connected with Music in Action, the music industry’s anticensorship group (the authors of this piece are mem­bers), they lost. The concert produced the most integrated white/Indian audience ever seen in the Black Hills. In Kansas City, where N.W.A. played after the city’s acting mayor, Emanuel Cleaver, tried to stop the show (saying “Take your trash back to L.A.”), Ice Cube concluded the performance by saying, “We just showed your City Council that blacks, whites, Mexicans, and Orientals can get together for a concert without killing each other.”

Nevertheless, rock world opposition to the censors remains small and unfocused. The $6.2 billion record industry has no defense budget at all. The record business has nothing to say about the FBI’s abuse of artistic liberty — maybe because it pro­tects its investment with the FBI’s Special Task Force against record piracy. Li­beled by bullies, liars, reactionaries, and bigger weirdos than rock ever knew in its psychedelic heyday, corporate rock ‘n’ roll can’t even find the strength to whimper. ■

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COPS ‘N’ ROCKERS

Police pressure forced the cancellation of a June 17, 1987, Run-D.M.C./Beastie Boys show at the Seattle Center Coliseum, beginning a new cycle of such abuses that trace back to the heyday of Alan Freed. Last May, Ouachita County, Arkansas, sheriff Jack Dews seized rap and heavy metal tapes from a Wal-Mart and from the Heart of the Blues record store in Camden, claiming the music was obscene under state law and couldn’t legally be sold to anyone under 17. In August, the 203,000-member Fraternal Order of Police declared a boycott of any musical group that advocates assaults on police officers, a significant stand since off-duty cops staff most security teams.

Billboard‘s September 9 front page detailed nationwide efforts to repress acts “that swear, engage in erotic posturing, and sing lyrics touting violence.” It reported curtailment or cancellation of shows by Skid Row, Too Short, GWAR, and N.W.A., as well as arrests of Bobby Brown in Columbus, and Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Among other towns where local officials censor rock are Cincinnati and Toledo, Ohio; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Poughkeepsie and Syracuse, New York. GWAR manager Bill Levine says that in Toledo, “We couldn’t say fuck or shit, but it was OK if we cut the heads off people.” (The decapitation of mannequins and pseudo-dismemberment of each other is a focus of GWAR’s oeuvre.)

The New York area is not immune to governmental shenanigans against rock. Some months ago, Middlesex, New Jersey, district attorney Alan Rockoff formed JUST (Joint Unit To Stop Terrorism), alleging the task force is necessary to stop cemetery vandalism caused by kids listening to rock. “There’s a healthy way to be Big Brother,” says Rockoff, whose unit tracks heavy metal bands and their fans with a computer.

N.W.A has not yet played New York. According to Ice Cube, nobody’s made the multiplatinum hip-hoppers a worthwhile offer.

— D.M.

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RETURN TO SENDERS

In July, I obtained the suspiciously uniform batch of letters that Priority Records received protesting N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton. To find out why the letters were so often alike, I called their authors, who came from all over the country. I checked more that 100 letters.

Most of the letters claimed that the authors would “never buy an album from your label again,” but my interviews with their writers indicated that none of them had ever bought any LP, cassette, or CD in the last 18 months excepts two who said they’d purchased a “Christian record.” (How can you boycott product you never buy?) None were aware of a wide range of rap acts, including Run-D.M.C.; several said they’d never heard of N.W.A. Those who were aware of the group said they’d learned about them from Reverend James Dobson’s Citizen magazine. Not one of these anti-N.W.A. letter-writers had listened to their record, although many were quick to respond to questions about the group by saying that “**** Tha Police,” as one put it, “calls on blacks to kill police officers.”

Only a single letter-writer acknowledged living in a household with anyone who buys “rock ‘n’ roll records.” And that respondent was the one who asked for advice on how to organize a rock-bashing group. She said she’d already started working on it.

— P.P.

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

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Lenny Bruce’s Fear: He Will Run Out of Fare to the Supreme Court

The local authorities probably won’t believe it, but their best — perhaps only — friend since they arrested Lenny Bruce on an obscenity charge at the Cafe Au Go Go last Friday night is Lenny Bruce.

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A petition drawn up by the newly formed Emergency Committee Against Harassment of Lenny Bruce, addressed to Mayor Wagner, challenges “New York City police and censors,” asking if ” ‘obscenity’ is the charge the public’s protectors have happily agreed is the best with which to silence an individual whose position, though popular with his audiences, is unpopular with an official minority?” And comedian Irwin Corey, who volunteered to go on in Bruce’s place at the Bleecker Street coffee house on the night of the arrest, devoted nearly all of his hour-and-a-half talkathon to the subject of “cops.” “A cop,” said Corey, “is an amoeba,” and the Village is a place “surrounded by precincts.”

‘Behind or Ahead’

But all Lenny Bruce will blame is the ‘mores or the times.’ “I’m either behind or ahead of the times,” he explains with incongruous equanimity.

A couple of hours spent with Bruce, however, can be a pretty incongruous couple of hours. First, tagging along with him and his private-detective sidekick to the Fifth Avenue apartment of a prominent civil liberterian, for whom they play the tapes of the shows for which Bruce was arrested. Sitting in a comfortable chair surrounded by wall-to-wall carpeting watching Bruce, in his light blue pants and white shoes and tan suede jacket, sitting stiffly in another comfortable chair, deadpan, listening to himself on the machine. And then watching him get fidgety, though always attentive and polite, as the liberal lectures him on the history of the good fight against censorship in this country and explains that Bruce’s language stems from an anal fixation, when all he really came for was some specific advice on his own case.

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Focus on Strategy

Later, in his room at one of the Village’s less elegant hotels, where there is no carpeting, just blankets and miscellaneous junk on the floor, Bruce kind of nervously jumps around, occasionally flopping down on the messed-up bed with a law book, all his attention focused on working out the legal strategy to get him out from under the latest charge against him. His steadily mounting experience in cases like this has made him somewhat of a specialist on the subject. The whole scene is reminiscent of poet Allen Ginsberg spouting the expertise he accumulated in his recent battle with the City License Department for the right of poets to read their work in coffee houses. Here too the authorities are, if nothing else, succeeding in distracting an artist from his work and turning him into a legalist.

But when Bruce is finally lured out of his law book and into a more general discussion of his problems, there is no display of bitterness — against neither the police nor the law itself. In fact, Bruce displays more compassion for the police than just about anyone around the Village these days. “They die for less than $400 a month,” he points out. “And they’re ashamed of being cops. It’s a shitty gig.” He feels it isn’t fair to treat individual policemen as symbols. Newspapers, he says, depend too much on symbols. “When they talk about Alec Guinness they say he’s Chaplinesque. And when they talk about Peter Sellers they say he’s Guinness-like,” Bruce complained, shoulders hunched, hands in pockets, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling and looking exactly like James Dean.

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Key Word: ‘Prurient’

As for the obscenity law, he says he thinks it’s “correct.” “The whole issue,” says Bruce, “is not that the state should keep its dirty hands off,” as the liberal he visited had insisted. For Bruce “the key word is ‘prurient.’ Don’t get people horny.” And he says, insisting he is serious, that there should be a law against getting people aroused because “it’s bad for marriages.” He says he’s not for the repeal of obscenity laws because “most laws have been defined and tested under Constitutional law by men like Judge Black and some other pretty wise old cats … Here’s how wonderful the law is,” he goes on, getting enthusiastic. “Even if (what you say) gets people horny, if it has some social importance it’s not obscene.”

Bruce’s quarrel is not with the law as written. He feels that the obscenity law as written and correctly defined does not inhibit his freedom of speech. He is confident that, as has happened in California, if his case has to go to a higher court, the words he has been hauled in on will not be judged obscene. The only fear Lenny Bruce has is “of running out of carfare to the Supreme Court.”

Uneasy Feeling

Bruce’s features have a strange quality of appearing both sharply defined and blurry, depending on the angle from which you look at him. And as you listen to him, you get the same uneasy feeling about his words, as though sometimes he is going too far for you to follow. Part of the problem is that his subtlety cuts though and goes beyond the liberal rhetoric we have come to depend on to identify a non-fink. As his friend remarked, “Lenny is fighting for the same things, but in his own way.”

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Sixpoint Global Warmer So Controversial It Could Be Censored

This week’s Beer in the Headlights is a highly sensitive brew fit for an equally thin-skinned leader. If, in fact, you get to read this review before it is memory-hole’d from the Village Voice website, you should know that the new Global Warmer by Sixpoint Brewing is a decently reviewed red ale. It’s not going to knock your socks off or anything. But that’s not the point. The point is that you have the right to drink and taste it for yourself. And certain rogue forces want to make sure that never happens.

Sometimes a beer is just a beer, you see. Other times a specific blend of barley, hops, yeast, and water forms a message far greater than its constituent parts. So it is with 2014’s Global Warmer — an annual release from Red Hook’s favorite microbrewery — dedicated to calling attention to the incontrovertible, inconvenient truth known as climate change. “There’s no denying it,” Sixpoint asserts in its slogan.

This controversial can carries within it a toffee-laced tandem of toasted malts and brightened hops, to form a seasonally appropriate, slightly bitter beverage. Packing a respectable ABV of 7 percent, it certainly isn’t offensive enough to warrant censorship. But consider the beer’s stylistic classification: Imperial Red. Uh-oh.

Any American product evoking the all-knowing, unstoppable force that is Kim Jong Un must be purged, no matter the cost. And after this week, we know too well that Pyongyang has the power to make that happen. There’s nary a need for me to propose a toast to lil’ Kim. He has already hacked into the craft community, orchestrating a massive bottle trade. The details remain sketchy, but apparently he has expatriated every last pallet of the 2014 Global Warmer to North Korea. In exchange, the American people are allowed to see any Jong Un-approved film of their liking throughout the holiday season. So add that to the Supreme Family’s proud list of accomplishments, right up there with inventing the hamburger, landing a man on the sun, and crippling free speech in Hollywood.

If you’re brave enough to seek out a taste of Global Warmer before it’s permanently scrubbed from our collective databanks (at the end of January), look for canned six-packs at your local bodega. There have also been reported underground sightings on draft at bars throughout the five boroughs. Drink at your own risk.

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Challenges to Internet Freedoms Remain With Anniversary of SOPA Defeat in the Books

A year ago Sunday, Congress shelved the Stop Online Privacy Act and the Protect IP Act after millions of concerned Internet users expressed outrage over a bill they believed threatened the freedom of the Internet.

The most memorable of those expressions of outrage against SOPA came a year ago Friday when a number of the most prominent websites, including Wikipedia and Reddit, participated in an Internet Blackout–urging users to reach out to their congressmen and senators to kill the bill.

In light of the recent death of dedicated Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment a little more than a week ago, and the many threats to Internet freedom that still exist–techies, activists and users alike are guarded in their celebration of last year’s victories.

“What we’ve heard after last year is that in this legislative calendar, nobody really plans to address copyright enforcement…Even a year after the SOPA protests, it’s still considered toxic on The Hill,” Parker Higgins, an activist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, tells the Voice. “That’s a good thing, but we also know that won’t last forever, and that it’s not an absolute either.”

Beyond the possibility of a renewed push for similar legislation, Higgins says he’s weary of private efforts to enforce strict copyright monitoring.

“Before the SOPA protests the [Recording Industry Association of America] hammered out a deal with five of the top [Internet Service Providers] to have a sort of private enforcement program…that’s going into effect very soon,” Higgins says. “We expect to see more of that as the copyright lobby wakes up to the fact that people are not going to put up with [overreaching censorship].”

He also highlighted the current fight to update the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act which currently allows law enforcement officials to access someone’s Internet communications, such as e-mails and instant messages, without a warrant.

The standard for this law was established in 1986–before the massive explosion of the Internet. As of now, law enforcement agencies can access online communications 180 days after they are published with only a subpoena.

An amended version of ECPA was passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee at the end of the last Congressional session, and supporters of the bill are hopeful it will be passed into law.

“What people need to know essentially is that there should be the same standard to search your inbox as there is to search your house,” Chris Calabrese, of the ACLU, tells the Voice. “We need to move those rights that we enjoy offline and make sure that we still have them in the online world.”

Calabrese says there’s a separate and very serious push to get similar protections for location tracking. Both the ACLU and the EFF are working to get enhanced location tracking protections in a world where cell phones and GPS systems provide constant insight into our location.

“There’s legislation this time in the House that has bi-partisan support that would require strong warrant protection before police could do location tracking,” Calabrese says. “So, there’s another area where we need to say ‘hey, the police couldn’t track us 24/7 before, and they shouldn’t be able to do it now.'”

As organizations such as the ACLU and the EFF continue to push for these important protections, we’ve already been told that the NSA has been keeping records on ALL of our online and cell phone communications already.

Amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act following 9/11 helped allow the NSA to expand its surveillance of U.S. citizens. William Binney, former director of geopolitical and military analysis at the NSA, first spilled the beans on the agencies massive domestic data collection initiative back in 2011. Despite efforts against FISA, the Senate voted, and President Obama signed-off, to extend the Bush-era FISA amendments, which were scheduled to expire in December.

Despite, the mounting challenges to internet freedoms, Higgins is confident that important victories will be secured moving forward–as everyday citizens continue to wake up to internet censorship and privacy invasion threats.

“It’s really been encouraging in the past couple of years that through social media and through online news sources, people really do stay on top of [these issues],” he says. “And, I think that knowing that, and giving these companies and legislators and lobbyists the understanding that they’re going to be held accountable [is] important.”

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*UPDATE: Judge Allows Censor of Testimony* Censorship Ruling Expected at Khalid Shaikh Mohammed Military Tribunal Hearing

[UPDATE]: Testimony at the 9/11 military tribunal trial at Guantanamo Bay will be subject to censorship, according to court documents released yesterday.

Judge Col. James Pohl ruled last week that the testimony of the defendants, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, could contain information that will compromise its War on Terror.

Pohl will allow a forty-second audio-delay — for the media and other observers — to remain in place, and security officers will have the authority to muffle out any testimony they deem to be “classified.”

“The Commission is acutely aware of its twin responsibilities of insuring the transparency of the proceeding while at the same instance preserving the interests of national security,” Pohl wrote in his decision released yesterday. “The brief delay is the least intrusive and least disruptive method of meeting both responsibilities.”

The ACLU and a coalition of 14 major news organizations challenged the government’s request to censor testimony from Mohammed and the other alleged perpetrators. The government filed its protective order amid concerns that the defendants might reveal information about their time at Guantanamo that could be detrimental to national security.

“We’re profoundly disappointed by the military judge’s decision, which didn’t even address the serious First Amendment issues at stake here,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a release. “The government wanted to ensure that the American public would never hear the defendants’ accounts of illegal CIA torture, rendition and detention, and the military judge has gone along with that shameful plan.”

The ACLU argued at a pre-trial hearing in October that the public already has abundant access to detailed accounts of the various torture tactics used on the Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

“The decision undermines the government’s claim that the military commission system is transparent and deals a grave blow to its legitimacy,” Shamsi said.

[ORIGINAL]: The military tribunal — where alleged 9-11 master-mind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other alleged 9-11conspirators will be tried — is expected to rule at a pre-trial hearing today on the government’s request to censor testimony.

The government filed the motion back in April, requesting that the court implement a 40-second tape-delay in the audio-feed from which news reporters and select observers will listen to the proceedings. It argues that the tape delay will ensure that classified information, regarding the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program at Guantanamo Bay, is not released to the public.

The ACLU and a coalition of 14 media organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Reuters, have filed separate motions to block the censorship.

Anytime the defendants mention their experiences in detainment, the 40-second delay will allow the court to mute the testimony. In its motion, the ACLU argued that the censorship was pointless because there’s already tons of information available to the public that details specifically what the now illegal interrogation program consisted of.

“That delay renders the proceedings presumptively closed by withholding from the public, media, and observers, at the press of a button, any access to detainees’ personal accounts of their detention and mistreatment,” the motion states.

The ACLU cites, among many sources, a 2005 report published by the International Committee of the Red Cross, in which Mohammed and the four other defendants describe how they’ve been treated while in U.S. custody. The report gives detailed information about the more brutal torture techniques used on terror suspects including sleep deprivation, prolonged nudity, beatings, forced shavings and water-boarding.

The government argues that even though classified information has leaked to the public, it’s still classified. It also argues that there’s no way to know what the defendants might reveal that could jeopardize the country’s fight against terror.

“Because the Government cannot predict whether the Accused intends to disclose classified information at [the] arraignment or during subsequent public proceedings in this case, the Government requests that the Military Judge immediately implement the protective measures set forth in the proposed Protective Order,” according to the government’s motion.

According to First Amendment precedent, the government bears the burden of proving that the potential release of classified information during the trial will cause a serious threat to National Security. The ACLU argues that many of the interrogation techniques are no longer legal and already well-known, so testimony detailing that information couldn’t be considered a threat to the country’s counter-terrorism operations.

The ACLU requests that if the court does accept the government’s motion for an audio-delay, uncensored transcripts should be made available to the public and the media in an expedient manner. Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, argues that such a restraint of First Amendment rights only serves to further undermine the credibility of military tribunals.

The Obama administration originally called for Mohammed to be tried in Manhattan Federal Court, but heavy backlash and costly security measures, led to the decision to move the trial to Guantanamo Bay. Many critics have called into question the fairness of military tribunals.

“There is an ongoing public debate about the fairness and transparency of the Guantanamo military commissions, and if the government succeeds in imposing its desired censorship regime, the commissions will certainly not be seen as legitimate,” Shamsi said in a release.

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Censorship Ruling Expected at Khalid Shaikh Mohammed Military Tribunal Hearing

The military tribunal — where alleged 9-11 master-mind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other alleged 9-11 conspirators will be tried — is expected to rule at a pre-trail hearing today on the government’s request to censor testimony.

The government filed the motion back in April, requesting that the court implement a 40-second tape-delay in the audio-feed from which news reporters and select observers will listen to the proceedings. It argues that the tape delay will ensure that classified information, regarding the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program at Guantanamo Bay, is not released to the public.

The ACLU and a coalition of 14 media organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Reuters, have filed separate motions to block the censorship.

Anytime the defendants mention their experiences in detainment, the 40-second delay will allow the court to mute the testimony. In its motion, the ACLU argued that the censorship was pointless because there’s already tons of information available to the public that details specifically what the now illegal interrogation program consisted of.

“That delay renders the proceedings presumptively closed by withholding from the public, media, and observers, at the press of a button, any access to detainees’ personal accounts of their detention and mistreatment,” the motion states.

The ACLU cites, among many sources, a 2005 report published by the International Committee of the Red Cross, in which Mohammed and the four other defendants describe how they’ve been treated while in U.S. custody. The report gives detailed information about the more brutal torture techniques used on terror suspects including sleep deprivation, prolonged nudity, beatings, forced shavings and water-boarding.

The government argues that even though classified information has leaked to the public, it’s still classified. It also argue that there’s no way to know what the defendants might reveal that will jeopardize the country’s fight against terror.

“Because the Government cannot predict whether the Accused intends to disclose classified information at [the] arraignment or during subsequent public proceedings in this case, the Government requests that the Military Judge immediately implement the protective measures set forth in the proposed Protective Order,” according to the government’s motion.

According to First Amendment precedent, the government bears the burden of proving that the potential release of classified information during the trial will cause a serious threat to National Security. The ACLU argues that many of the interrogation techniques are no longer legal and already well-known, so testimony detailing that information couldn’t be considered a threat to the country’s counter-terrorism operations.

The ACLU requests that if the court does accept the government’s motion for an audio-delay, uncensored transcripts should be made available to the public and the media in an expedient manner. Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, argues that such a restraint of First Amendment rights only serves to further undermine the credibility of military tribunals.

The Obama administration originally called for Mohammed to be tried in Manhattan Federal Court, but heavy backlash and costly security measures, led to the decision to move the trial to Guantanamo Bay. Many critics have called into question the fairness of military tribunals.

“There is an ongoing public debate about the fairness and transparency of the Guantanamo military commissions, and if the government succeeds in imposing its desired censorship regime, the commissions will certainly not be seen as legitimate,” Shamsi said in a release.