A campaign of political repression is under way against anarchist and indigenous projects in Arizona, spearheaded by the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center and the Tempe Police Department Homeland Defense Unit. The Tempe police department’s anti-terror division preemptively shut down the Protect the Peaks solidarity benefit show that was planned for Friday night, using the threat of a fire code violation to ensure that the venue would have to cancel the event. The Homeland Defense Unit acted on an alert they received from Arizona's main counter terrorism information gathering hub, also known as a fusion center, that a benefit show to raise money for the struggle to save the San Francisco Peaks was scheduled to take place in Tempe on Friday night.
The benefit show organizers had contacted a DIY venue/space run out of a warehouse in west Tempe, a well regarded space that has hosted a number of shows over the last year, often receiving coverage in the Phoenix New Times and other media. It is a labor of love for the person who runs it, who has a full time job in addition to hosting the occasional show at the venue. The Protect the Peaks benefit show would have been the first political show to have been hosted at the space, it also put the venue on the radar of Arizona's counter terrorism fusion center.
On Thursday, September 6th the venue operator received an unannounced visit at his workplace from an officer assigned to the city’s Homeland Defense Unit. The officer, Detective Derek Pittam, threatened to have the venue shut down for fire code violations if the Protect the Peaks show wasn’t canceled immediately. Detective Pittam informed the person that he was aware that the venue regularly held shows and made it clear that under no circumstances would this benefit show be held at the venue. The venue's future is now up in the air due to the threats of the Homeland Defense Unit, even though Detective Pittam admitted to the venue operator that he was aware that there had never been one call to police or reports of any illegal activity at that location.
Detective Derek Pittam of the Tempe Police Homeland Defense Unit
At least one officer working in the Homeland Defense Unit spent last week locating the DIY venue, identifying the operator of the venue, finding his cell phone number, and where he works his full time job so that he could be harassed by Detective Pittam. They had also decided that their anti-terror unit was going to manufacture a fire code violation as pretext to shut down the show, unless the Homeland Defense unit is regularly enforcing code violations in Tempe.
I've learned that during the workplace visit, Pittam specifically identified support for the "Save the Peaks" as a concern for the authorities. Throughout his visit Detective Pittam made it clear, the issue is with the benefit show not the venue, however the venue would face the consequences for allowing a radical, anarchist, and indigenous themed event.
I've also learned that the venue operator was again contacted on his cell phone Friday night by a Tempe police commander who wanted the venue's permission as the primary property manager to arrest individuals (who may not even know the show was canceled) for trespass on site. The venue operator declined, and was then asked by the commander for the landlord's phone number, which he also declined to provide to the Tempe Police. A friend who drove by the venue Friday evening observed one marked police vehicle on the property where the venue was located, and another vehicle parked near by.
In the short time since word got around about the show being canceled, many people involved with various projects are shocked and outraged over this show of state repression. I was able to chat with Alex Soto, a Tohono O'odham MC from the hip hop group Shining Soul, one of the acts that was scheduled to perform on Friday. In addition to his music, Alex has organized against border militarization on his traditional land, the Tohono O'odham nation, a land divided by the US/Mexico border wall and militarized by the border patrol.
He had this to say about the cancelling of the show:
"The show itself is an example of the solidarity between indigenous people, the Diné and O'odham, and anarchist people who are supportive, it also means that the authorities are afraid of us acting in collaboration, collectively. They’re afraid of all of us coming together, it’s not new, it’s happened before at past demonstrations where we’re targeted, we’re marked for oppression, mainly just by being ourselves and being there.
It doesn't matter to them whether it's an action or protest, or in this case with our talents and our musical gifts to bring people together, the state doesn’t respect that. This act of repression by the police further motivates myself and everyone else involved to push forward and to have another benefit or show, because we know this will be effective, and all we’re doing now is picking up mics and guitars.
In addition, I’d like to express that as a Tohono O'odham person, I have solidarity with other indigenous people in this area, in this case it’s Diné people and the other 12 tribes that hold the San Francisco Peaks as a sacred site. This act by Tempe police, and all the entities involved is an attack on who I am and who we are as indigenous people, it verifies to me that we’re doing our role, in this case by standing in solidarity with the peaks, or when we oppose the loop 202 freeway or oppose the border and militarization because this is what solidarity and healthy communities look like. When we stand together, fight alongside each other, or in this case sing together to defend who we are and what we hold sacred, then fuck the Tempe PD, fuck Phoenix PD, fuck DPS, and any entity that tries to stop this energy that’s building here in Arizona."
When the authorities act to intimidate or threaten dissident voices and movements, it causes a chilling effect, in this case the Tempe police were willing to let a fire inspector poke around in the venue until any little violation could be found that would shut the show down. We also know that they wanted to arrest anyone who came to the property expecting to see a show. This is a direct attack on the ability of people to freely gather, communicate, and organize without the potential of arrest or physical injury by police, in addition to the potential for serious financial problems for the venue operator.
More information will be coming this week.