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Guerrilla USA

Guerrilla USA: The George Jackson Brigade and the Anticapitalist Underground of the 1970s

Daniel Burton-Rose
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 358
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  • Book Info
    Guerrilla USA
    Book Description:

    "We are cozy cuddly/armed and dangerous/and we will/raze the fucking prisons/to the ground." In an attempt to deliver on this promise, the George Jackson Brigade launched a violent three-year campaign in the mid-1970s against corporate and state institutions in the Pacific Northwest. This campaign, conceived by a group of blacks and whites, both straight and gay, claimed fourteen bombings, as many bank robberies, and a jailbreak. Drawing on extensive interviews with surviving members of the George Jackson Brigade,Guerrilla USAprovides an inside-out perspective on the social movements of the 1970s, revealing the whole era in a new and more complex light. It is also a compelling exploration of the true nature of crime and a provocative meditation on the tension between self-restraint and anger in the process of social change.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94603-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. Prelude
    (pp. 1-6)

    The George Jackson Brigade (GJB) placed its first bomb in the early hours of Saturday May 31, 1975. Late Friday evening, Ed Mead and Bruce Seidel drove from Ed’s south Seattle home to the state capital in Olympia. In the trunk they carried a 6-in. × 12-in. lead pipe packed with gunpowder, wires, and a flashbulb. A little past midnight they pulled into a parking lot adjacent to the nine-story Capitol Complex Building, where the Division of Corrections had its headquarters. Bruce acted as a lookout from the car while Ed crowbarred open a fire-escape door on ground level. He...


    • 1 Conceptions of Revolution and Violence, 1961–1967
      (pp. 9-19)

      By the summer of 1961, Monroe, North Carolina, had become a pressure cooker under intense heat. Year by year, conflict between insistent advocates of racial integration and indignant white supremacists had compounded the pressure. Incidents of white-on-black violence occurred almost daily, and Robert Williams, a local African American organizer with an international reputation for militancy, was repeatedly subjected to death threats. The threats were not idle: several attempts had, in fact, been made on his life. As if in retaliation, a string of arsons damaged conservative businesses. When idealistic young “Freedom Riders” came to town and decried racial inequality in...

    • 2 A Cresting Wave, 1967–1970
      (pp. 20-29)

      The threat of a large-scale white riot prompted by U.S. policies in Indochina cropped up for the first time in the planning of the October 1967 march on Washington. Dave Dellinger, a Quaker pacifist first incarcerated for refusing to serve in World War II and the editor ofLiberationmagazine, was the primary organizer of the affair. He recognized that the anti-war movement was at a grow-or-die juncture, and, committed to enhancing its appeal to the young, invited Jerry Rubin to collaborate in its planning. In 1965, Rubin had participated in the organization of “Vietnam Day” on the campus of...

    • 3 Delivering on Threats, 1971–1975
      (pp. 30-38)

      In the late 1960s, as anti-war activity reached its crest, a dramatic confrontation between young radicals and the criminal justice system took shape. Penal reform work had been a periodic cause in forward-thinking circles throughout American history—the “penitentiary,” as opposed to the prison, was one of its early innovations. In the late 1960s, consistent with the new generation’s rejection of existing institutions, dissidents launched an unprecedented attack on carceral institutions and the state’s capacity to punish.

      Prison reform work in the mid-1960s was, in effect, a continuation of the civil rights movement by other means. Prisons housed a disproportionate...


    • 4 A Child Prodigy
      (pp. 41-45)

      The four-year-old Edward Allen Mead stared transfixed at a calendar painting on his grandmother’s wall that depicted a squadron of B-17s flying toward the horizon, while a boy sat beside an orange-crate airplane—complete with crude wings, propeller, and tail—crying because the men had left him behind when they went off to war. Mead identified—in his imagination, it washewho sat there.

      Born November 6, 1941, Mead was a child of wartime California. He was transplanted to rural Iowa directly after the Allied victory. Except for a stint in juvenile detention, he subsequently bounced between his mother’s...

    • 5 Jailhouse Lawyer
      (pp. 46-52)

      Alaska did not have a prison of its own, so Ed and his co-defendants were turned over to the federal government, which placed Mead in the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Lompoc, California. The institution was governed with military discipline, necessitating unwelcome adjustments from the new inmate, who was accustomed to a high degree of independence. FCI Lompoc urged self-control on its wards, prompting Mead’s first interest in psychology. When prisoners’ internal disciplinary controls faltered, prison staff were present to enforce external ones.

      In the face of oppressive doctrine, prisoner camaraderie formed around their most obvious common denominator: their criminality....

    • 6 Strike!
      (pp. 53-65)

      Back at McNeil Island, Mead immersed himself in legal pleadings as never before, petitioning the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review the state pharmacy conviction and appealing the federal conviction for attempted escape in Circuit Court. He continued to assist others. This was not philanthropy: he did it for himself, because the law intrigued him. He became fascinated by the possibilities concealed behind the veil of obscure language. Fitting the cases of concern to himself and his fellow inmates into the course of precedents and prevailing decisions had become the first socially sanctioned intellectual challenge of his life, and...

    • 7 A Rebel and a Cause
      (pp. 66-80)

      Ed Mead had read more about the radical community in Seattle than that of any other city while in prison. In the 1960s, Seattle’s University District, or “U District,” was one of the first blossomings of the hippie scene outside New York City’s Lower East Side and San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury District. Toward the close of the decade, the campus boasted one of the nation’s strongest chapters of Students for a Democratic Society; Mead still has a clipping from theUniversity of Washington Dailydescribing a march and rally in the spring of 1969 that drew thousands of people demanding an...

    • 8 The Destroyer’s Creation
      (pp. 81-88)

      In December 1974, Seattle Police Chief Robert Hanson decided to arm his force with hollow-point bullets, highly lethal projectiles designed to explode inside their target. Local organizers immediately called a demonstration to decry the policy. Ed Mead walked with the crowd, which was supervised by officers on horseback, but he declined to participate in the chants: “Power! Power to the People! It’s the People’s Power and It’s Gettin’ Stronger by the Hour!” and “There Ain’t Enough Pigs! In the whole world! To Stop the People’s Power!”¹

      “Idle threats,” Mead disparaged silently. “If we really intend to stop police violence,we...


    • 9 Woman over the Edge of Crime
      (pp. 91-100)

      This is how Rita D. Brown once described her origins: “I grew up in Klamath Falls, a redneck Weyerhaeuser town in rural Oregon; my parents fled the poverty of the South a couple of years before I was born. I have one sibling. . . . My mom was a passive, nagging, battered wife and my dad an uneducated, insecure alcoholic most of my life.”¹ As a child she found sanctuary from the violence of her home in the bookmobile that visited her school. One of the first books that made an impression on her was a biography of Captain...

    • 10 Women’s Work
      (pp. 101-109)

      As her time at Terminal Island ran down, Brown’s mind turned from the daily grind of the institution to her life after release. The most obvious question mark was DJ, who had been her girlfriend for three years at the time of her incarceration. Though they had never broken up, DJ was a less-than-avid correspondent.

      Brown had known it would be difficult for the relationship to survive a period of forced separation but, she consoled herself when she was sent to prison, “I’m not gone that long.”

      Brown’s question about the status of the relationship was answered ten days before...

    • 11 Inside Out
      (pp. 110-118)

      Rita, Therese, and a handful of like-minded people in the women’s community publicized the first meeting of the Women Out Now Prison Project primarily by word of mouth. They announced it at the Seattle Liberation Coalition, an umbrella organization of the Seattle Left, and posted flyers in local schools. Some thirty women showed up. They heard a rap about the conditions of women prisoners—psychological as well as physical—and were encouraged to explore conditions for themselves by making direct contact with inmates.

      In order to secure access to Purdy, the organization played on the rehabilitational pretensions of the Washington...

    • 12 Days and Nights of Love and War
      (pp. 119-126)

      On May 17, 1974, the Symbionese Liberation Army was incinerated in Compton, Los Angeles. Four hundred and ten officers of the law—the combined forces of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff, the FBI, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), and the California Highway Patrol—poured over five thousand rounds of ammunition and eighty-three tear gas canisters into the East LA bungalow in which the would-be urban guerrillas were holed up.¹

      The band of Berkeley radicals, led by the escaped convict Donald “Cinque” De-Freeze, had grabbed international media attention on February 4 when they kidnapped Patricia...

    • 13 New York, New York
      (pp. 127-132)

      As the summer came to a close, Rita and Therese decided to solidify their ties with their colleagues in Attica Brothers Legal Defense by attending the annual Attica Day demonstration in Buffalo, New York, on September 21, 1975. After the protest, they would drive to Brooklyn and meet others who provided support to incarcerated women.

      Two of the Attica Brothers they had brought out to Seattle, Frank “Big Black” Smith and Akil al-Jundi, lived in the collective houses of prison activists in Buffalo. Possibly because of parole restrictions, the two men stayed at different ones.

      Rita and Therese were hosted...


    • 14 Liberating the New World from the Old
      (pp. 135-146)

      Ed and Bruce both found their May 31, 1975, bombing of the Division of Corrections headquarters in Olympia empowering. The most unresponsive branch of the state government could not ignore a detonation in its own central offices, nor could the capitalist-owned press. Neither of the two men bragged to friends about the event, but they did print their communiqué in the newsletter they themselves edited,The Sunfighter

      Absent immediate repercussions, they continued on their course. The next “mass struggle” that they perceived to be in need of armed support was that of the American Indian Movement on the Sioux reservations...

    • 15 Invitation to a Bombing
      (pp. 147-156)

      In the midst of the storm of criticism, Rita Brown received an intriguing invitation from Bruce Seidel, a fellow prison organizer with whom her girlfriend Therese had first became acquainted on the University of Washington campus.¹ “Would you like to meet with the George Jackson Brigade?” Bruce asked. Like Therese, Bruce was a prodigious reader with a quick mind. He had been a student in the Economics Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign until the faculty refused to accept his thesis on how to correct capitalism so that it would benefit the people. When Therese introduced Bruce to...

    • 16 A Night without City Light
      (pp. 157-164)

      One evening in October 1975, Rita Brown and a companion were sitting in a Pioneer Square bar across from the train station on Jackson Street. Suddenly everything went dark. She and her companion grabbed their glasses of beer and walked outside. Looking down Jackson to the waterfront, they could see that power to the whole area was out. They investigated further and found that a fuel truck had crashed on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the coastal rim of downtown, and was pouring flaming oil onto a terminal of City Light, the public utility, below. City Light workers, who had been...

    • 17 Dog Day Afternoon
      (pp. 165-170)

      After the New Year celebration, cash became a pressing issue. With each of the three bombings costing approximately $250 in preparatory materials, the New Year’s Eve attacks had drained the collective’s limited resources. Additionally, an afternoon of target practice ran about $50 in ammo.¹ Neither Ed nor John had held on to their jobs at Boeing Field, and Bruce was similarly unemployed. Mark Cook, the donor of the funds used to buy the guns in Denver, had a day job as supervisor of Pivot, the convict-operated upholstery shop he had co-founded while incarcerated at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla...

    • 18 Jailbreak!
      (pp. 171-181)

      Bruce’s death came as a shock. Brigade members had made a personal commitment to die for their cause, but they had not foreseen one of their own being killed so quickly.

      In the wake of Bruce’s death, the popular singer-songwriter Holly Near came to Seattle. Despite feeling guilty about enjoying themselves so soon after the death of a close friend, Rita and Therese attended the concert, where they recognized many others in the audience who were also in mourning. The most powerful moment came when Near performed “It Could Have Been Me,” her moving tribute to a fallen comrade. A...

    • 19 Clueless in Seattle
      (pp. 182-199)

      On January 28, 1976, a month and a half before Sherman’s spectacular liberation, Jill Kray attended the arraignment of her ex-boyfriend, Ed Mead, with her two-year old daughter Odessa. On sight of Mead, Odessa cried out: “Daddy!” One federal marshal, on hand to maintain order in court, rushed out of the room; minutes later, he returned with a subpoena for Kray from the grand jury that had been convened to investigate the Tukwila robbery.

      In the intervening moments, Mead’s collaborator John Sherman, also in the dock, had leaned over from the defendant’s table to ask Kray: “Is everyone alright?”


    • 20 Diverging Paths to a Common Dream
      (pp. 200-209)

      In his second month in jail, Ed Mead publicly acknowledged his membership in the George Jackson Brigade. Resolved to use his trials as a forum for his politics, Mead left the broad contours of the charges against him uncontested. With little to hide, he became the de facto public spokesperson for the organization, doing his best to convey collective goals and his own personal motivations. He granted interviews to thePost-Intelligencerand theSeattle Timesand engaged in a lengthy discussion with Seattle’s left-wing community in the pages of the countercultural biweeklyNorthwest Passage.

      Mead’s jailhouse interview with two contributors...

    • 21 Ed Mead Gets His Day in Court
      (pp. 210-223)

      On February 26, 1976, as Mead sat eating in the cafeteria of the King County Jail, an inmate passed by and dropped a note on the floor. By the time Mead realized that it might be intended for him, however, a sharp-eyed guard had already intercepted the missive.

      Once placed in segregation—a unit called “the Annex”—Mead was informed of the contents of the note: it was a proposal to riot, take hostages, and escape. Over the next six months, he was also able to fill in why he’d been the intended recipient. The author of the proposal was...

    • 22 Underground in Oregon
      (pp. 224-231)

      The collective decided that it was time to get out of the city. John and Therese left first. Initially just posing as a couple, they had quickly become one in actuality. The partners crossed over to coastal Route 101 and drove south until they arrived in Coos Bay, Oregon, a sleepy town beginning to awaken for the summer tourist season. The couple decided that they’d spent as much as they could afford to on gas and moved no further.

      Rita stayed on a little longer in Seattle to clean up the Brigade’s tracks. She spent a few days at the...

    • 23 Back with a Bang!
      (pp. 232-241)

      In returning to Seattle, the Brigade was careful to choose a residence in a neighborhood in which they were unlikely to run into past acquaintances. They decided on a place in South Seattle, near the Seattle-Tacoma airport. Since it was directly under the flight path, the house was unpleasantly noisy.

      While there was much work in relocation and the selection of new targets, weekly days off were mandated. On these, Rita and Janine began fishing at a spot just north of the ferry docks in Edmonds. They cast their lines and crab trap directly off the pier into a calm...

    • 24 Winding Down
      (pp. 242-254)

      In the fall, the collective relocated from their working-class digs in southern Seattle to the more middle-class North Seattle. Given that Brigade members had spent nearly all of their time in Seattle before joining the group on or near Capitol Hill, they felt anonymous in the neighborhood. As usual, the banks they robbed were far away from their home.

      On Thursday September 8, Rita handed a note to a female teller at the Old National Bank on 13233 One Hundredth Avenue NE in Juanita, a suburb north of Bellevue. She pulled a handgun partially out of her belt. The note...

    • 25 Crying a River
      (pp. 255-272)

      Janine was devastated by the capture of Rita—her darling “Bo,” as she called her affectionately. Compounding the pain of the abrupt loss of her partner was her isolation from her friends and loved ones in the community in Seattle. Further, she was alienated from John and Therese both conjugally, and, as an ideologically cloudy person in contrast to their crisp doctrine, politically.

      During the period directly following Brown’s capture, Bertram kept a diary. The document offers an invaluable look at the Brigade’s most dismal period. With its numbers clipped by attrition and at a loss for campaigns to which...

  10. Coda
    (pp. 273-278)

    Tuesday, March 21, 1978, was a day of dramatic change for the final Brigade members. Janine, Therese, and John sat in their 1965 Buick Electra—John in the driver’s seat—in the parking lot next to the Jubilee Hamburger Restaurant, 858 South Thirty-eighth Street, in Tacoma. Each wore a disguise: Janine, a scarf and an ill-fitting wig; Therese, drag; John, a priest’s collar. Therese had a stickup note on her; they were preparing to rob the Thirty-eighth and J Street branch of the United Mutual Savings Bank, across an alley from the restaurant.

    At 1:55 P.M., while chewing their burgers...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 279-312)
    (pp. 313-318)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 319-338)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 339-339)