Olympia, WA @ TESC (4-23-14) — Ed Mead and Mark Cook were members of Seattle’s notorious George Jackson Brigade (GJB) in the mid-1970’s. For over two years, this group routinely robbed banks and bombed buildings across the width and breadth of not only Washington State, but Oregon, releasing communiques, while the feds were in hot pursuit, describing themselves as Marxist oriented revolutionaries.
During a radio interview after his release from prison after serving decades for the aforementioned crimes, Mr. Cook denied being a ‘real’ member of the GJB, asserting the press and authorities ‘credited’ him with membership…a credit he was happy to accept despite averring he was only an ancillary associate. Still, the string of violent lawlessness continued until a gun battle with the police broke out during one bank robbery in which a member was killed.
Declassified FBI files claim Mark Cook was the getaway driver who fired at and missed a pursuing officer during the heist, but he managed to hit one of his comrades with the bullet before making their escape. The wounded robber was captured. Nevertheless, Mr. Cook denied, during the presentation in the TESC Lecture Hall, that he was the driver. He did, however, admit to ambushing, shooting and wounding a police officer escorting the wounded bank robber to a hospital for treatment to assist the man’s escape. Authorities later recaptured him and arrested Mark Cook. He was convicted of shooting the police officer while aiding/abetting the escape of the prisoner.
With the string of violent crimes, robberies, bombings, and having been convicted of shooting a police officer during the crime of implementing the escape of the wounded prisoner, even the guest speakers conceded it was a miracle they were on the streets today, long before the sentences they’d been given were fully served.
The two spent very little time recounting the depth or length of their crime sprees, and focused on the gestalt/turbulence of the era along with their engagement in prisoner issues during their incarceration. They justified their bank robberies as ‘funding’ their ‘revolutionary’ activities while candidly warning of the consequences/suffering one was likely to incur going down the same path. They spent no time and made no mention of the suffering they caused others over the two years they defied the law, victimizing others with abandon. Judging only from their reminiscences, it appeared as though they scarcely gave it a thought. To hear Mr. Cook and Mr. Mead tell it, this was a war against an oppressive regime and one must think of the property destruction and ruined lives as collateral damage in a ‘just’ war against the man–a highly convenient self serving argument for any bank robber or bomber to make…especially after getting caught.
While on the run, the gang bombed two Rainier National Bank offices in the Bellevue area. Releasing a communique to the press, the GJB claimed it had done so for the reason the bank had connections with the family which owned the Seattle Times, a publication the gang described as a bourgeois newspaper. This hostility to the press continues apace to this day as reflected in the starry eyed admiration of their young would-be acolytes and lifestyle anarchists.
Listening to the two, it became apparent Mark Cook was the more scholarly, even while he urged those bent on a violent revolutionary future to begin living like fugitives now rather than later after they became wanted by government authorities for crimes they might commit in the future. Living a life on the run had to start well in advance, he argued. As predictable as some of his opinions were, he also had some profound insight. “The most dangerous men never go to prison,” he once observed. The track record of Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, and Rumsfeld surely proves his point. Some would point to President Obama as further proof.
Despite the shortcomings of the two men, it was obvious prison and the years had changed them. They were senior citizens now, with a judgment the years of stress and suffering bring with them. They conducted themselves with quiet dignity, were not bombastic, candidly recounting the horrors and inhumanity within prison walls. Mark and Ed weren’t likely genuine revolutionaries before being caught…they admitted they’d badly miscalculated their actions…but they did become revolutionaries after being interred. Their honest reflections seemed lost on most of those who came to hear them speak, fewer than 2 dozen. Most of today’s TESC student body have probably never heard of them. The two Rip Van Winkles had woken up to a new world after being buried for decades–a world they had yet to fully grasp–strangers in a strange land that barely acknowledged them. They were humble and curiously handsome–like an old sailing ship.
After they’d told their stories, or what they wished to reveal, the audience was invited to ask questions. No one, initially, had any, so this reporter asked one: “Given the lengthy string of bank robberies, bombings, loss of life, and shooting of a police officer, not to mention their antipathy toward laws, and government, just WHAT were the authorities supposed to do with them and their ilk?–give them a stern lecture?” Each attempting to field this question…somewhat unsuccessfully…until Brad, the ACAP facilitator, cut them short, hoping others would pose less troublesome questions.
Several others asked ensuing questions and one woman asked for their take on what the impact of the “prison-industrial complex” had been? They answered as best they could, but a lifetime within prison walls hadn’t prepared them to give a comprehensive answer. They’d toiled at stopping atrocities like prison rape, improving the dismal prison conditions inmates had to endure, and negotiating with the warden over the harm done to inmates thrown into the ‘hole’. It was an asymmetrical battle, but one that ultimately transformed them, while caught in the jaws of Hell, from common criminals into champions, of a sort, for human rights. Having soaked for decades in the sewers of our archaic criminal justice system, one had trouble recognizing them from their former selves–a life affirming transition despite the cruelty they’d witnessed and endured. Both compared the fate of virtually any animal under the thumb of man as better than the appalling conditions inmates must survive. Is it any wonder violently crippled convicts arrive at our doorsteps after coming out of such a world? Each, in turn, poignantly made a case for abolishing prisons as we know them.
The session had wound down, no questions remained. This inspired one last question from the only photojournalist covering the forum: “If one understands prisons and the criminal justice systems are instruments of torture/terror used by the state to break people who defy it, how is it that ‘snitches’ are so harshly condemned and targeted when even Al Qaida operatives break under torture? In fact, are we not a nation of snitches, which any casual listener to a police scanner would be forced to recognize almost instantly?”
Mark Cook took a clumsy stab at answering. He also misunderstood the question. He responded that one should NEVER inform on another, even if the resistance proved fatal, and to endure torture at least long enough until ones comrades could be warned you were about to break. He went on to opine ‘criminals’, as opposed to ‘revolutionaries’, were merely capitalists who thumbed their nose at the law rather than using it to their advantage…essentially flip sides of the same coin. But, this reflection missed the reference to average citizens who clog the police frequencies with complaints of the most trivial and busybody sort such as “White man dancing in the middle of the street!” or “Homeless woman defecating behind a dumpster,” after all the public restrooms/toilets are locked at 5:00 pm.
The meeting was not destined to terminate so uneventfully. As Mr. Cook was trying to field this last question, a young blond curly haired youth who’d taken up a set behind the photographer interrupted, saying, “He’s a snitch!” (the photojournalist) “Is that right?” queried Mr. Cook.
Looking his nemesis directly in the eye, the reporter exploded with a short very tart and unprofessional verbal response. Robert Herdlein, an adviser on campus to the student run Cooper Point Journal newspaper tried to calm down the reporter. “He’s only a kid,” he argued in a subdued tone. “He’s old enough to know better,” snorted the photographer, “and besides, it’s a thinly veiled threat/call to action which is a continuation of a campaign of intimidation, bullying, and threats directed at the press–particularly this one!”
The ‘kid’ looked like a younger brother to Matthew M Pfeiffer, a Seattle native, self described anarchist, federal Grand Jury resister detainee, and advocate of ‘direct action’ street demonstrations suspected of being among those who destroyed property during Seattle’s May Day riots. If not his brother, then an ill conceived younger clone who after disrupting the meeting to confront the photographer, then cringed under the camera’s gaze as his picture was snapped. Perhaps it’s a family trait; Maddy reacts much the same. With this kind of cowardly mob inspired behavior, government apparatchiks needn’t fear for where they’re next paycheck is coming from. The lifestyle anarchists, despite their arrogance and violence are impotent to create meaningful change…representing something worse than what they protest as they wrap the cloak of ‘rebel’ about themselves–much as Mark Cook and Ed Mead did in their youth.