Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

RNC terror: "a practice run in implementing martial law"

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | September 08, 2008 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: American Indians, Dennis Bernstein, Elliot Hughes, Minneapolis, Ramsey County jail, Regency Hospital, RNC, St. Paul, state terrorism, torture

Unfortunately, at this point I've become accustomed to hearing about the escalating level of police brutality against protesters. But I'm still shocked about the scope of police and "law enforcement" violence at the RNC. It's stunning to watch potential Blackwater employees pull someone aside for detention, to hear of teargas and rubber bullets used against protesters, to see horrifying strong-arm tactics against reporters, or to listen to a sheriff proudly describe year-long counterinsurgency efforts against nonviolent political protesters.

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But now I'm beside myself after hearing Elliot Hughes describe what can only be categorized as torture while being detained at Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul, Minnesota (and while in the hospital!). Hughes was riding his bike alongside a small protest of what looks like about 50 people marching in the street, followed by an equal number of police, when a police officer, also on bicycle, ran into him. After getting up from the ground, Hughes was tackled by numerous officers, taken to jail, and subjected to the kind of treatment familiar to those of us who follow US military violence in colonial incursions around the world.

In this country, this kind of horrifying treatment is generally reserved for those considered human garbage or threats to conventional standards of decency: homeless people, people of color, people perceived as undocumented immigrants, sex workers, trans people and others not gendered "correctly," as well as people considered mentally or physically "impaired" -- and now I'm beginning to think that the monstrous powers-that-be are succeeding at moving protesters into the category of those who can be brutalized with impunity, especially if these protesters identify as (or are even perceived as) anarchists.

While in police custody, 19-year-old Elliot Hughes fainted due to lack of food, and began convulsing and coughing up blood. Police responded by saying that he was faking it or "being bulimic." A prison doctor told Hughes that he had a bruised rib and that coughing up blood was "normal." Hughes was repeatedly denied food, put in solitary confinement, and then when he demanded something to eat, he was punched in the face by an officer and knocked unconscious. The officer then brought Hughes back to consciousness by slamming his head on the ground, resulting in a pool of Hughes' blood on the floor. Officers then put some sort of device consisting of a translucent plastic bag over Hughes's head, with a gag over his mouth, and used pain compliance torture tactics by pressing deep into the nerves and tendons between jaw and neck while wrapping one of Hughes's leg around his back. As Hughes was screaming and crying for help or an end to the pain, the officers would press harder, and when Hughes screamed for God or anyone to help him, one of the officers, clearly aware of this horror movie enactment, said, "There's no God here, we are all devils."

Hughes was eventually taken to a detention cell inside Regency Hospital, with no knowledge of where he was going and the bag still over his head after his recent concussion. He couldn't see, and was nauseous from the bruising to his brain, and started vomiting in the bag while it was over his head. Officers refused to remove the bag or to do anything for Hughes's wounds for several hours while he screamed for help. When Hughes eventually became quiet, officers paraded him through the halls of the hospital, handcuffed with the bag over his head, vomit and blood everywhere. After Hughes was examined and treated by a doctor, he was taken back to the hospital cell, where the air-conditioning was turned up and he sat there shivering until eventually he was taken back to jail, strip-searched and held overnight until eventually released.

There are so many layers to the horror of this hideous and appalling treatment, but I need to pause for a moment to wonder about this holding cell at Regency Hospital -- of course I'm aware of the ways the medical industry is complicit with corporate profiteers of all sorts, but I do wonder what was going on inside the hospital as Elliot Hughes screamed for several hours for help. Was the hospital holding cell soundproof? And what about when Hughes was marched through the halls with a plastic bag over his head -- is that common treatment for patients? I wonder what hospitals need to do in order for prison officials to allow them to treat brutalized inmates, and cannot, unsurprisingly, find any information at the Regency Hospital website.

It's amazing and inspiring to see Elliot Hughes talking so clearly, carefully, and eloquently about his torture, immediately after his release from jail. Obviously he is traumatized, and yet he is still speaking out. Like so many of us, he's trying to exist in the world in an ethical way, trying to challenge this horrifying imperialist system we're living under, and he's now bearing the costs. The costs for biking down the street during a protest, mind you -- what is next?

I keep hearing, over and over again, about the brutality of "the Republicans," but everyone should pause for a moment to remember that the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are some of the most liberal metropolises in the country, with Democratic mayors, and I'm guessing Democratic officials at the head of almost every city agency. The police violence at the RNC is, as Flashpoints host Dennis Bernstein describes it, "a bipartisan expansion of police power and crackdown on the First Amendment."

I highly recommend listening to the September 5 segment of the always-brilliant Flashpoints, where Elliot Hughes describes his torture in more detail, and where American Indian Movement activist Bill Means speculates that the police state tactics in Minneapolis and St. Paul are "a practice run in implementing martial law."

Thank you, Elliot, for your bravery.

Mattilda also blogs at

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Keep in mind that this was another bipartisan attack on our civil rights and liberties, demanded by the Republicans and carried out by Democratic (sic) city and state governments as well as federal agencies.

The current string of attacks on civil liberties began when Democrat (sic) Diane Feinstein introduced the precursor of the Paytriot Act during the Clinton Administration to suppress antiwar agitation over Clintons murderous embargo policy that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.

After 9-11 both parties participated in a bipartisan attack on Constitutional rights. In the military theatres the illegal murders of civilians and POW’s grew exponentially and terror bombing, missile and artillery attacks increased with deadly results for non-combatants. In violation of international and US law Bush set up concentration camps and began kidnapping foreign nationals and paying other governments to torture and kill them.

Obama and McCain's support for FISA is not just another example of their craven sellouts to big business? Both of them are dues paying members of the world's second oldest profession so sellouts are expected. But Obama's support for FISA, like McCain's, is a little more serious. It takes a hatchet to the Bill of Rights, particularly the Fourth Amendment. Voters will have to choose which of them they’d prefer violating your civil liberties. Which is the more 'progressive' sellout?

Obama and McCain both voted to extend the anti-constitutional Paytriot Act expanding the surveillance state, setting and trampling civil liberties? Which of their votes was more 'progressive vote'?

Both McCain and Obama have promised to continue the war, and dementedly, Obama wants to extend it to Pakistan and McCain to Iran. With that as a backdrop the attacks on civil liberties and constitutional rights will continue.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | September 8, 2008 9:34 PM

Thanks for posting this, Mattilda.

I have been extremely upset over what has been happening in St Paul, the lack of media coverage, and the absolutely disturbing apathy of most Americans.

Likewise, I strongly object to portraying what happened in St Paul as "bipartisan," as Bill and other Projectors have done. What happened in St Paul is much worse than anything that happened in Denver.

Those who read my posts and comments here know I am no mindless Democratic supporter. It is no secret that I find the Democratic Party spineless and despicable in its pro-business, pro-war actions and policies. And yes, the Democratic convention in Denver saw the noxious "free-speech" zones and heavy handed intimidation of activists by police.

But according to witnesses, what happened in St Paul was far, far worse. Just take this incident: can you supply a comparable one from Denver? How about accounts of arrested journalists? Bystanders pepper-sprayed and shot with rubber bullets? Pre-emptive raids on activists’ homes?

St Paul, according to witnesses, was transformed into a militarized zone, with uniformed members of the armed services patrolling the streets, battalions of riot police marching and chanting military slogans, innocent people swept up in indiscriminate and brutal police actions, pre-emptive raids on activists' homes which saw the confiscation of computers, journals and political literature, and now, legally charging arrested activists with felonies under Minnesota’s version of the Patriot Act.

And this person here, tortured.

Yes, the Democrats are disgraceful enablers. But St Paul itself was brought to you at a Republican convention, after a trial run in NYC four years ago, by a Republican administration.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 8, 2008 10:24 PM

Mattilda thank you. Even though for some mysterious yet obvious reason the utube video is no longer available the meaning of your posting is clear.

Our once great republican example that was an envy of others in the world has turned in to The United States of Amerika Inc. There is corporate pressure on everyone and everything from the news purveyors to the manufacturers of Taser devices.

All we can do is consistently organize and vote in favor of human (our) rights. Have we, as a society, fallen so in love with television happy talk that we throw away the whole point of democracy? It feels like it at times, particularly when exposed to enough stupid people out there who still cling to "My country right or wrong."

Were we doing anything important with our freedom? Most won't notice that it is gone.

Bill, thanks for the astute analysis and background -- and I love "Paytriot," I think it works well for the general term as well ("paytriot").

Brynn, I think you're right that the police state terror in Denver was not as bad as in St. Paul, but what do you make of the fact that surely the vast majority of elected officials in Minneapolis-St. Paul are Democrats? Doesn't it make it even more ironic and horrifying that they are more interested in facilitating The Republican National Convention, cracking down on all forms of protest, ensuring a state of siege, brutalizing demonstrators and journalists, all for the supposed business and visibility that the Republican National Convention was supposed to bring? If that's not a bipartisan expansion of police state tyranny, I don't know what is.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | September 9, 2008 8:34 PM

What disturbs me most about alleging equal bipartisan responsibility is that it promotes the falsehood that there is no difference between the two parties—usually accompanied by whoever asserts it that he or she is not going to vote. This myth of politcal equivalence has been in play at least as far back as Reagan’s first presidency. While I find Democrats as a party to be despicably venal, passive, cowardly, and inept, they are light years ahead of the modern Republican party when it comes to LGBT rights, the environment, healthcare, the economy, women’s rights, science and common sense, and human rights in general. One example that would have saved more than 100,000 human lives and $576 billion and counting: Al Gore may have well invaded Afghanistan after 9/11; he would have known better than to invade Iraq.

The invasion and attempted occupation of Iraq by Bush2 was a follow-up on Bush1's all too successful efforts to position a massive US military presence in the Middle East with the object of gaining military hegemony in the area. That’s been the unwavering policy that every administration and political leader of both parties, including Obama, has pursued to this day. It is not a fight against terrorism, it is terrorism. It is not a fight for democracy, it’s utterly antidemocratic. It’s a fight for oil.

It was also a follow up to the Clinton Administrations embargo of foodstuffs and medical supplies that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, which was the beginning of the American genocide in Iraq. Gore never objected to that butchery. He was a consistent supporter of Clinton’s genocidal attack on Iraq. He didn’t even object when Madeline Albright, Clinton’s Secretary of State admitted it was going on.

On the contrary, he was a mouthpiece for that strategy of murder and imperial aggrandizement. His differences with Bush are purely partisan and have noting to do with his fundamental support for using the US military to grab control of the oil.

Here are videos of Gore using the same lies about Iraqi terrorist threats, nuclear threats and WMDs that Clinton used to defend his massacre of children and that Bush later reheated and fed us to explain his invasion.

There are no sensible reasons to expect that Gore would have done anything differently in a strategic sense.

There is nothing alleged about saying that the parties have the same policy regarding US control of oil and the same policy regarding attacks on civil liberties. That analysis is reality based; their differences are cosmetic.

Cosmetic, indeed -- and not even good cosmetics!

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | September 10, 2008 12:04 PM

which was the beginning of the American genocide in Iraq.

The beginning of the American genocide in Iraq was the first invasion by Bush1. That the Democrats supported that war and an embargo afterward was indeed vile. But you cannot assume it means Gore would have invaded after 9/11.

There are no sensible reasons to expect that Gore would have done anything differently in a strategic sense.

On the contrary. At the very least, Gore would have known it was a quagmire. I do not think he would have invaded.

Promoting the myth that there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans will help ensure that we have at least four more years of utterly disastrous policies for the LGBT community, global warming, women's rights, corporate greed, the economy, healthcare, and the war--among other issues. I despise the Democratic party, but it has better policies on all these issues than the GOP.

The beginning of the American genocide in Iraq was the first invasion by Bush1.

Maybe. Powells forces trapped a couple of hundred thousand Iraqi soldiers in what they called the “Kill Box” and killed huge numbers of them. The LA Times describes it:

” A lot of Iraqis died, that’s for sure. A couple of hundred Allies died and 700-something were wounded. But on the Iraqi side, nobody to this day knows how many were killed out in the desert. Also, they were deliberately not counting. Schwarzkopf didn’t want it to become like the Vietnam War, where there was a nightly body count on television. So instead, they counted things. They would tell you, “We hit 240 tanks today,” as opposed to, “We probably killed about 10,000 Iraqis.”

The Soviets used similar techniques during World War II against the Nazi armies, and if there were no units available to guard them on a march to Siberia simply killed them. The US used a kill box tactic in August of 1944 in the Falaise pocket, surrounding and killing more than 10,000 Germans. The only problem is that they were armed soldiers, however unwilling they may have been.

Personally I think Bush1’s needless slaughter of Iraqi draftees is just as despicable as Clintons mass murder of their children but I’m not sure many would agree with me. That aside there is absolutely no question that Clinton’s embargo led to genocide, or that his administration was fully aware of that, or that Gore was a lying jingoist and warhawk during this period, or that Bush2 simply repeated Gores lies.

I can’t imagine how anyone would think that knowing it was a quagmire would have stopped Gore or any Democratic (sic) or Republican war hawk. They knew it for 12 years in Vietnam and they’ve known it for 15 years in Iraq so why would you think they give a rat’s ass about causalities except from the point of view of public relations? It certainly didn’t stop the Democrats from giving Bush/Cheney all the money they wanted for their murder machine.

Of course Gore would have loyally carried out US policy: creating hegemony to control the regions oil. He agreed with the policy 100%, as the videos prove beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Promoting the candidacy of either Obama or McCain will lead to 4-8 more years of war, economic collapse, attack on civil liberties, pandering to bigots, health care and as for global warming, I’m all for doing what we can to slow climate change but the truth is our feet are already in the fire. We're screwed no matter which one wins.

Building the antiwar movement, our own struggles and aiding our allies in unions and other communities is our only way out of the trap of dependence on the parties of our enemies.

Robert, thanks for the understanding -- and thanks for letting me know that the video is no longer available, which is quite eerie -- I better check into it...

Hmm sorry but nothing is working from You tube not just this.And the police arrested no one at the Democratic convention im gussing?

and still the typo queen make that guessing daa.

Cathy, that's good to know that the YouTube problem is with the site in general. As for the DNC, tons of people got arrested and brutalized, just not as many as at the RNC.

Perhaps because there weren't as many people in Denver? That's the only difference I see between the two.

Thats good to know but reading this youd of thought it was only at St Paul folks got arrested not Denver and yes the "protesters" at St Paul tended to be more rowdy than in Denver.Then they always are more rowdy at Republican conventions than in Democratic ones since the one in 68.

It was worse at the Republican convention, but nevertheless it remains absolutely true that it was worse because of the bipartisan effort to attack our civil liberties.

The Democrats are just as bad in that regard, historically and currently, as the Republicans. These spells of anti-constitutionalism are always an adjunct of war, and they're carried out by both parties, sometimes competitively, as in “I Hate Commies” vs. “No, I REALLY Hate Commies” and sometimes cooperatively, as in the collusion between federal and local police and Democrats and Republicans to conduct a murder campaign against leftists and nationalists like Malcolm X and the Panther leadership who terrified them.

These attacks on the constitution are always linked to the pursuit of war aims. When Wilson forced the US into war to protect American bank loans to England and France a terrible witch-hunt against 'Reds' and aliens was instituted. It led to mass arrests and deportations of ‘aliens’ and the murder of Sacco and Vanzetti. As the Cold War heated up first Truman and then Ike engaged in witch-hunting on a huge scale. That led to the murder of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and to tens of thousands of GLBT folks being driven out of good jobs in industry, schools, the military and the civil service.

During the invasion and occupation of Vietnam it was the Democrats who conducted red hunts and it was they who unleashed rioting police on unarmed civilians in Chicago. Later Nixon followed the same path and that led to the murders of students at Kent State and Jacksons State.

In the current war, a war to get hegemony over vital resources like food and oil, the US is engaging in genocide in Iraq and mass murder in Afghanistan. Last week saw the first ‘reported’ raid of US troops on a Pakistani town with a predictably large and uncalled for list of civilian causalities.,25197,24000236-2703,00.html

The attack on civil liberties began with Clinton’s genocidal infanticide which seamlessly morphed into Bush’s genocide. The killing in the Middle East and the attacks on the Constitution will go on and intensify, as the events in St. Paul illustrate, for as long as the war goes on. Obama’s phased withdrawal is a crock and so is McCain’s century of war. The best way to defend our rights is to build a non-partisan independent, massive, militant antiwar movement. movement.

Nick, true enough that the police state behavior at either convention was horrible.

Cathy, I guess you think that riding a bike down the street is "rowdy."

And Bill, yes yes, "It was worse at the Republican convention, but nevertheless it remains absolutely true that it was worse because of the bipartisan effort to attack our civil liberties. " And thanks again for the historical overview -- a militant antiwar movement, indeed, certainly a good beginning...

Rowdy was the fools who broke windows tore up things and were stupid enough to pick fights with the police.Then I guess you didnt think they were there either and being idiots. Everyone who was arrested was an innocent bystander right?

Cathy, actually I don't think that people who break windows or pick fights with the police deserve to be tortured in prison, either. It's the police violence that causes the unsafe situations in the first place, and the specter of oh, no -- a few windows getting smashed! Oh, no, the end of Western civilization! That is the excuse that the cops use to get away with horrifying violence -- and often, it's undercover cops/agent provocateurs who are breaking those windows in the first place...

Im not going to agure with you you see things through your own eyes and no amount of truth will ever change it.As for Bil Purdues "history" thats so full of revsionism and Bil's warped sense of what he belives is true.Im not going to touch it either then Bil wants us not to vote at all in Novemember to.

"I'm not going to argue with you you see things through your own eyes and no amount of truth will ever change it."

Sounds like arguing to me! And no amount of truth will ever change it :)

Melanie Davis | September 9, 2008 4:59 AM

The truth is, I can't remember a RNC when police brutality wasn't the norm. Of course this goes back decades before my experience, and the Chicago DNC was worse in outcome, but the way people are treated today has no justification. None, unless you are a supporter of Bush's Guantanimo Bay tactics.

Cathy, the baiting is as obvious as my pre-SRS bulge.

The other thing I noticed was that this was covered in my local media as the police against a united national anarchist movement. All of the protesters were labelled as anarchists, "tens of thousands" of 'em. Fear, Hate, Fear, Hate... ad infinitum. Oh, the Liberal Media strikes again! Wait, um, no. Nevermind.

I can't remember a RNC when police brutality wasn't the norm.

When I protested the RNC in 92, there was massive police raid on the ACT UP protest. I ended up having to punch a police horse in the nose and make a quick getaway through the crowd to avoid arrest for watching as others burned Bush Sr. in effigy.

I don't think you'd get away with punching horses in the nose anymore.

Thanks for posting this, Mattilda. There's nothing that can justify that sort of violence.

Melanie Davis | September 9, 2008 10:04 PM

Bil, you'd seen Blazing Saddles one too many times, I think.

Can I call you Mongo from now on?


For a further backgrounder on the subject of protesters at both conventions, commenters can check out my recent post at

There are quite a few aspects to look at, as far as the history of how our rights are being taken away. The history of conspiracy charges and use of RICO prosecutions, for one. The growing use of gag orders, for another. I'm going to be covering some of these aspects in upcoming posts.

And BTW, I think everybody should vote.

And BTW, I think everybody should vote.

Then you'll be happy to hear that since I live in Nevada, and since we have no leftist third party candidates on our ballot this year, that I can still vote for "none of the above candidates."

That's one of the big advantages of living in Nevada along with the fact that our state income tax is thoughtlfully paid for by gamblers and a very good steak and egg breakfast cost's $2.75. The big disadvantage is that Nevada likely deserves it's title of the Nations Second Largest Brothel. (The venerable title of the Nations Biggest Brothel is held by Congress).

If we didn't have the option of voting for none of the above and if there was nothing like Prop 8 on the ballot, I'd join millions of others and say thanks, but no thanks. I used to try writing in Che Guevarra or Malcols X but you wouldn't believe what a ruckus that caused.

Melanie, Bil, Alex, and Patricia -- thanks for the understanding!

And Melanie, where are those tens of thousands of anarchists, where oh where I keep looking!

And Patricia, thanks for your historical framework.

And Bill, of course the problem with brothels is their owners.

And oh, voting! Well, at least Cynthia McKinney has something smart to say about "the racket."