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October 6, 2009

Interview With Pro-Bono Civil Rights Defense Attorney Paul Hetznecker

By Rob Kall

The day after over 80 protesters, many of them contributors, were arrested in front of the White House, it seems like a good time to publish this interview I did a few weeks ago with Paul Hetznecker, who defends protesters as part of his life work.


The day after over 80 protesters, many of them contributors, were arrested in front of the White House, it seems like a good time to publish this interview I did on my Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show a few weeks ago with Paul Hetznecker, who defends protesters as part of his life work.

Rob Kall
: Good evening. It's been a busy day today. I spent the morning down in Philadelphia in a court room with reporter, Cheryl Biren-Wright and the AEC 6 - the six protesters who were arrested at the Army Experience Center a few weeks ago on September 12. It was an interesting morning.

We have tonight, coming on in a few minutes, Paul Hetznecker. Paul Hetznecker is a defense attorney who does a lot of work, pro bono, with people who have been involved in protests of different sorts who are engaged in fighting for civil rights.

He is working to defend Cheryl Biren-Wright and the six protesters and I had a chance to meet him today and he is, as I described in the diary announcing this radio show, he's a lion. He is an awesome guy who is about protecting our rights, protecting our constitutional rights in particular.

Here, I have Paul Hetznecker and I described you as a lion of a man in my newsletter that I sent out announcing this radio show. After seeing you in action today I was very impressed Paul.

Paul: Well, I appreciate those comments. It's very kind of you Rob.

Rob: To start off with you're defending pro bono the six protesters who were arrested at the Army Experience Center and Cheryl Biren-Wright, the reporter who was arrested while taking photographs there.

: That's correct.

: There was a hearing today and I'm not sure just what to make out of that and what we can say and it would be great if you could give a little bit of a summary about how things look for them and where they're going.

Paul: Let me start out by saying that we have not received police reports yet so I do not have their official version of what they're claiming what the protesters actually did to prompt the criminal charges that were brought.

But, I will say this, there has been a longstanding policy of the Philadelphia Police Department to have their Civil Affairs Division monitor, surveil, and conduct intelligence gathering with respect to protesters in the city.

And, this goes way back and it is not unique to Philadelphia. Police departments throughout the country during the 60s and 70s established what they called Red Squads back then which were intelligence gathering units that would show up at protests essentially to monitor the protest, to make sure that the protest didn't become violent and that was ostensibly their official mission.

But, their unofficial but more significant mission was really to gather political intelligence on the protesters and there is a longstanding tradition in many police departments of gathering this information and then sharing it with federal authorities and other intelligence agencies in order to essentially create a catalogue of protesters, a kind of intelligence gathering process that goes way back and has continued and has actually intensified over the last ten years since the protest in Seattle ten years ago.

And so there is this longstanding tradition of what has been phrased, and I think properly coined, a "war on dissent" in this country and that war has been intensified not only under President Bush, but it continues so even to this day.

Rob: Under Attorney General Holder would you say?

Paul: Absolutely. Absolutely. Certainly, Holder is a breath of fresh air compared to the previous administration, but the infrastructure of the surveillance and the intelligence gathering that exists within the federal government and coordinates with local police departments existed as I said even before Bush came into office. Certainly, it got much more insidious and much more, I think dangerous, in the efforts that were made post 9/11 and use of the Patriot Act and other efforts that have been well-documented with surveillance by the NSA and by the Pentagon and other agencies which were barred by law from conducting domestic surveillance. What we have seen is this has carried out throughout the course of the last ten years with a variety of tactics.

So, I make that comment only because I think it's important that when defending individuals in a protest situation not only are the examination of the charges and the sufficiency or lack thereof of the evidence an important part of any defense, it's also important to know what the underlying strategic plan of the police department has been with respect to protests and in conjunction with that the efforts to identify, catalogue or what has been phrased "political profiling" of those people they believe to be the center of whatever particular political demonstration is being conducted.

: I was there and what I saw were police somewhere between 50 and 80 uniformed and non-uniformed police seriously attempting to intimidate and actually threatening the media with arrest if they stayed to cover arrests.

Paul: Right. And that's a very dangerous part of this whole development and I think what has been seen over the years and really started I think in real coordinated effort by local and federal agencies to criminalize dissent but also to marginalize those who are protesting and also kind of eliminate the press overview of their activity is the process or the tactics that you just mentioned - the intimidation, the threats of arrest, "you stay here," the seizing of cameras and video cameras when there is an event that is going on in an attempt to control, from their point of view, control the events that are going to unfold.

So, for example, if the police decide to create an arbitrary line of demarcation and indicate to people that you're not to go beyond this point at a particular protest that can be documented very easily by individuals who were there either part of the protest or independent of the protest such as yourself who was there to simply cover the event and it becomes an important third eye, a way in which the police tactics and the police use of their power on the street has an oversight and the oversight would be the media, those people present on the scene who documented this. Well, they don't want that. They want to have unfettered discretion in those kinds of situations.

Rob: [station ID] We're talking to Paul Hetznecker, a defense attorney who does a lot of pro bono civil rights work and we're talking about the protesters and the reporter who were arrested at the Army Experience Center.

You know Paul, one thing that I'm very interested in and aware of is that the Obama administration promised transparency in government. Actually OpEdNews even got a grant from the Sunlight Foundation which focuses on government transparency. Most of what they do is aiming for transparency in contracts and legislation and relationships with lobbyists and things like that, but it seems to me that allowing the press to see what the police are doing is just one of the most clearly obvious kinds of transparencies that is out there. Isn't it?

I agree and I think it's a much broader issue because it's not just whether it's the Bush or Obama administration that is called to task. It's really a question of how far government agencies have gone to essentially marginalize our areas of privacy as well as our areas of public protest.

: We're talking about marginalizing the Constitution aren't we?

Paul: We are. Not marginalizing, but really changing the whole kind of view that we've had traditionally about the rights that are protected under the Bill of Rights. Those protections that are guaranteed under the Bill of Rights only having meaning if people are able and feel comfortable enough and willing enough to express themselves.

So to bring the first amendment to life you have to stand on a street corner and protest an issue and you have to be able to express yourself without worrying about being identified or categorized as a dissenter, as a threat to the state, someone who is now in a position where your identity is going to be known by agencies, you're going to be identified, you're going to be profiled, you're going to be possibly hounded, there is going to be a file created because of your protest.

All of these efforts by the government which are longstanding, they go back for decades, but what has happened recently is that our focus has changed, that as a society we don't believe that those activities that have been traditionally protected under the Bill of Rights are ones that should be heralded, that should be lauded, that should be cherished and now considered threats and so the dialogue has changed.

So, those people that engage in a protest such as the ones that these individual clients have engaged in now are considered a threat, a threat to the status quo, a threat to the particular agency or governmental entity which they are confronting rather than what I believe which was really was born out of a tradition of struggle the view that this is exactly what was protected under the first amendment, under the Bill of Rights.

"We" were here essentially on this street corner to argue, to voice our dissent because this is a protection that is guaranteed something that we should cherish and laud and and support rather than the society's focus has changed and the focus is now well to what extent are these people there to disrupt and possibly threaten a governmental agency or a governmental entity or a particular view that is embraced by possibly the majority of the public.

I think what we need to do is change the dialogue a little bit and talk about how our realms of freedom or areas of freedom, our ability to communicate, to associate and to express ourselves are further enhanced by activity, by the kind of activity which is now deemed to be criminalized or deemed to be marginalized.

: Cheryl Biren-Wright was charged with criminal conspiracy because she was taking pictures of police arresting protesters.


Rob: This is just insane to me. It's not just the police who were part of this, though, this is also the District Attorney's office right?

Paul: They are the charging authority, yes, and they are provided the information by the police department. But, you're right, it's very frightening and it is the kind of thing that happened on several occasions and more recently the one that I think is most widely circulated was Amy Goodman from Democracy Now being arrested last year in Minneapolis by the police and again after she had announced herself as a reporter who was covering the particular protest at that moment.

I think the total disregard for the freedom of the press or the ability of reporters to cover an event is a frightening development because there seems to be no concern about whether or not a person who has a press credential, a person who is taking photographs, a person who is doing exactly what the police surveillance squads are doing which is filming the event and taking photographs of the event that somehow that person presents a threat to the official version, whatever official version they want to present about what happened that day.

I guarantee you that the official version of the police report is going to differ very much from the accounts reflected in the photographs and in the individual accounts of those who were there in support of the protest, but also those who were there to cover it such as Cheryl who was not a protester, who was simply a member of the press covering the event.

Rob: You told me in our conversation earlier today that you had an impression that the police are treating independent media different than the establishment media. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Well, I think that's a broader discussion, but it goes back to independent media, for example, covering the Republican National Convention in 2000 and the way the independent media had been treated by the police during the course of the events that unfolded during that week. Part of the strategy and I think it's a multi-faceted and multi-pronged strategy by those who engage, those entities such as the civil affairs and in coordination with FBI, those who engage in surveillance of political dissenters and political protesters do not want these events covered by independent press and independent media.

Rob: Why?

Paul: Because in large part it goes back to what I said earlier that they want to be able to control the version of what unfolds in front of them at that particular time and have the ability to provide a version that is going to support whatever charges are eventually brought.

So they want to prevent the press from covering the events so that the press is unable to have visual evidence of what happened that would refute the verbal reports and the selected visual evidence that are presented by the police. Is that what you're saying?

Correct. And that happens routinely. So, for example at many demonstrations when the police begin to take action they immediately push the press out of the way and get them out of the way and further away from the events that are occurring. Anybody with a camera, anybody with a video camera is identified as a threat to their actions and so they try to move them off . Essentially it is more of a tactic than anything else, clear them out, we don't want the press to cover this particular event.

Now part of that I think is systemic in all police departments because if you look for example, there were a couple of events within the last few years that occurred in Philadelphia involving police abuse one of which was a situation where news helicopters covered police officers making an arrest in what they believed to be a shooting case in which they took several men from a car and beat them in full view of the cameras. Well, those cameras happened to be up in the helicopter so they could not do much about preventing that from being disclosed to the public, but it is this natural tendency on the part of the police officials on the scene to eliminate any kind of independent review of their activity.

Now, does that comport with the first amendment? No, of course not. Arresting Cheryl in this particular case who was a reporter covering the event was absolutely in violation of her rights - not only her right to be there as she was a licensee in that area as everyone who was invited into that particular location at the mall and this particular Army center is inside the mall so those individuals who were there to protest were invited into the mall to protest, she was there as a member of the press covering the event so her place there was completely protected and sanctioned not only by their initial action of inviting everyone in but by the first amendment. She was there to cover the event.

So, their actions in arresting her obviously become a much more important, I think, important struggle for all of us to have the truth revealed. Because, if you start to eliminate the press from any particular location based on arbitrary police decision making then you have essentially allowed them unfettered control of that particular event whether it's a protest, whether it's a march, whether it's a picket, whatever it might be it is essentially an area in which the press has a right to be, a right to view that event, a right to cover it, document it, record it and then disseminate it to the public and that is all that Cheryl was trying to do that day. And, unfortunately, she became the victim of excessive police activity.

In this particular case it looks as if based on the photographs that I have seen that she had been targeted by one civil affairs official and directed by one official to another official to actually go over and make the arrest of her because she had a camera.

Now, that's the way it looks based on the other photographs that were taken not by her but by other individuals there and I think those pictures are a clear example of exactly what I'm talking about which is the police attempting to control the situation. They've made a decision to make arrests, they are now going to conduct those arrests and they don't want their activity to be documented independently.

Rob: This is what I saw, for example, when they threatened the TV crew and bullied them into leaving that is exactly what it was all about.

Paul: Let's mention that a little bit. Tell me about that part of it. You said that there was a TV crew there that was covering the event and what were they told by the police and who was the TV crew?

Rob: The TV crew was Frontline with PBS and they had been covering this story of the protests of the Army Experience Center and I watched the police tell the reporter - and I didn't hear every word of it but I heard some of it and it was basically - "you gotta get out of here now, we're giving a final warning and if you don't get out you're going to be arrested." And, after Cheryl was arrested and I went outside I wanted to see why didn't the police do something with the reporter from Frontline and I asked her and she said, "Well we got out, we left." I said why, "because they told us we'd be arrested if we stayed." Now, this to me is just outright bullying by the police of the press. Because I was there in May and I saw the exact same kind of thing happen, it gives me the impression that it's a systematic policy of the police. Not some accident. Not some rogue cop.

Paul: Yea, absolutely, I agree with that 100%. I think it is a systematic policy in any situation where there is a protest or demonstration and as I've said this began and it was very clear in 2000 that when arrests were unfolding that the police did not want the press documenting those arrests. Like I said, I think it's a general police policy but it's much more clearly effectuated in cases where it's a high profile political demonstration where the police acting on whatever prompting they have either from those individuals who were the focus of the demonstration, the Army in this particular case or whether it might be a particular governmental entity whether it's prompted by them or by the police themselves at a certain point when they take action they do not want it documented so you're right. It's not an accident. It is a systematic thing.

Rob: Does this happen all over the country would you say?

Paul: Well, it does happen. What's more important though and I want to make this clear that the kinds of tactics that have been used by the agencies that have investigated protest groups in this country are very much systematic. That they are, for example, following the Seattle protests in 1999 what was awakened was a very dangerous sleeping giant and that was the sleeping giant that had been foreshadowed by the COINTELPRO investigation done by the Church Committee in the 1970s which was a series of frightening abusive tactics by the federal government, by the FBI and other federal entities such as the defense department and the CIA and other evidence of domestic surveillance and intervention and illegal conduct by those agencies in an effort to undermine the first amendment rights of political activists in this country.

What 1999 did in Seattle was really reawaken this as I said this sleeping giant of domestic surveillance and the joint FBI terrorism task force was established and what began in Seattle continued in Washington DC in 2000 during the demonstration, I think it was the G-8 summit there in 2000 and then, of course, it came clearly into view, the tactics that were used in 2000 here in Philadelphia during the Republican National Convention.

What they did was and there is a series of things that they've done and they've refined their tactics, they refined it in 2004 during the conventions in the presidential conventions, one in New York and they did it again last year in 2008 and what the common denominator of the police agencies have been are several. One is what they would do is create protest zones where people were allowed to protest far from the situs of their particular protest so if the convention center was holding...

Rob: That's what's happening this week in Pittsburgh at the G20.

That's exactly right.

: They've been designated...

That's right.

Rob: Is that legal?

: Well, that's a very good question. Let me explain to you, it really cuts to the heart of this whole issue and this battle over the first amendment because what was developed was a strategy, for example in 2000, the Republican National Committee I believe at the behest of the federal authorities and swallowed up all of the public spaces with permit requests so all of the public spaces where protest groups would want to protest in either the center of the city or near the Wachovia Center where the convention took place, they were swallowed up by these permits so there was only one public space that the City of Philadelphia authorized for a demonstration by protesters. Everything else was swallowed up by these permit requests. That was one strategy.

The second one was to create so there are these non-protest zones which are areas where the City says okay you're off limits and they've done this in Pittsburgh. They've done the same thing in Pittsburgh.

What they then do is then they create this little caged zone and say okay you want to protest here you are. You can go over here and express yourself off in this little remote caged area and that's where you can express your first amendment rights. Well, that was never ever contemplated in all the litigation over the first amendment in the last five decades. The idea was that you could take your protest to the street, that you could take your protest to the situs of your protest so if it was a governmental agency, a court house, a corporation you could go to the foot of that particular entity and express yourself because that was the whole nature of dissent in this country and the first amendment was to allow you to express yourself and possibly with very uncomfortable and difficult speech at the location so that you could be heard. Not in a corn field somewhere cordoned off in a cage.

Rob: So, we've got the G20 in Pittsburgh, there are two locations where they've basically done exactly what you've described. Do these protesters have the right to go somewhere else and if they don't abide by what the police tell them to do and they get arrested do they have something defensible and if they went all the way up to the Supreme Court with the Neanderthal 5 that are there now would they have any chance of getting those free speech rights?

Paul: Excellent question and let me address it in the following manner. And I'll address it with what has been essentially an attempt to preempt much of this by the lawyers representing the protest groups in Pittsburgh. Lawyers went into federal court requesting that the illegal conduct by the police which they had searched illegally according to the reports that I have heard and read, searched illegally several organizations that were there to create a fair, an environmental fair, to demonstrate the alternatives to the environmental policies that have been embraced by the G20. Well, the location for that particular fair was in dispute and they sought a permit and they also sought an injunction from the federal judge to stop the harassment, the intimidation, the illegal searches of the individuals that were going to organize this fair and those supporters who came to attend it. They were shot down by a federal judge so the question of whether or not ...

: I have to throw in a couple of weeks ago I had Cyril Wecht on, he's a world famous medical examiner who was a victim of one of the Rove directed Bush appointed DOJ prosecutors who worked with a Bush appointed judge who was so unbelievably inappropriate that he was pulled off the case and the decisions reversed. This is the Pittsburgh we're talking about here and it could be the same kind of judge couldnt' it?

: I know a little about the Wecht case just from newspaper accounts, I can't comment on the particular judge that made the ruling in this case, but what I can say is this is that the hope of these lawyers is that they would find refuge, that the first amendment would find refuge within the walls of that particular judge's court room and what they found was that they found no refuge so the question of whether or not the first amendment will find protection within the courts is an open one.

The law is a rationalization for power. The only limitations are the limitations that we find in the document that we know as the Bill of Rights. So the protection that we have for freedom of association, for freedom of expression, for the protection of privacy zones whether it be in communication or in thoughts that are communicated privately through telephone, or Internet. All of these issues are I believe in the battleground of this new frontier which the Internet has essentially opened up for all of us and that new frontier is really the battleground over our freedom of our first amendment rights whether on the street or in our expressive modes through telephone communication or Internet communication is what we are battling right now. And, it's an open question whether we are going to find sanctuary in the courts or whether we are essentially going to be shot down, but that doesn't stop the struggle.

The first amendment only finds life and breath in the activity, the expressive activity, of those people who embrace it. You know, dissent was essentially one of the guiding principles in the founding of this country was that the expression of dissent, the ability to confront power with truth with a different point of view, with a lone voice in the wilderness that was all built into our concept of what this country was all about. What's been challenged over and over again over the last three or four decades is this idea that we have this protection because this protection has now been marginalized, it's been limited and there are zones of privacy just like there are zones of expression are now smaller and smaller.

So, when a court says it's illegal to stand on a street corner and bark out your proclamation against the government because you're disrupting someone else or when a court says we consider this particular organization to be a threat to national security therefore we are going to allow the federal government to investigate, infiltrate, intimidate that particular organization we have relinquished a zone of freedom that we may never get back without something much greater happening. Whether that will happen in the courts or not remains to be seen. I do not have a lot of faith in this Supreme Court. I can be honest with you. Now over the years if Obama's appointments change the composition of this court we'll see.

[station break] I'm talking with Paul Hetznecker. He is a defense attorney who does a lot of pro bono work with protesters and people who are fighting for our rights and our freedoms and Paul we don't have that much time left and I have a couple of things I want to go over with you.

One is this idea of civil disobedience as part of the fight for health care for everyone. What do you think about that idea?

: I think it's a fascinating idea. I think the notion that health care is a civil right, that health care is a human right I think is an important concept that we must embrace. You know, if we look at the way resources are disseminated for health care, obviously there is a huge disparity between those who have access to adequate health care and those who have no health care at all and don't have access to the channels of power that allow them to have access.

So, I think health care as a human right is absolutely essential in our dialogue over this issue of changing modes of health care and whether or not this particular bill or a new bill is passed or this country changes its view on health care, I think fundamentally, the dialogue has to change and the concept of health care as a human right is an essential part of that change.

Rob: And the civil disobedience, is there a way that you would envision protesters engaging in it that would be directly relevant to health care? Would they block health insurance company doorways, would they go to hospitals. I'm just trying to envision how civil disobedience would apply. Rosa Parks went to a bus. Somebody else went to a lunch counter. How would people fighting for the human right of health care engage in metaphoric actions that would basically get the attention of the media and force the elected people to do their job?

: It's a good question. I think it's only based on the limit of the imagination of those activists who are conducting that particular battle and struggle. You mention Rosa Parks, civil disobedience has been a core part of social change in this country for two centuries and if you look at the fundamental changes in our laws whether they be the labor laws, civil rights laws, the laws that allowed for equal protection and the laws that permitted women the right to vote, they are all really fundamentally motivated by social movements and social movements engaged in all kinds of tactics one of which is civil disobedience so I certainly wouldn't be surprised if civil disobedience became a part of the social movement around this core issue of health care as a human right.

Rob: Another question, you just got some good findings and facts from a judge regarding a case that you were working on regarding some protesters who were responding to a supposed KKK march. What did you come up with. I know you were pretty pleased with the results and the success. What was that about?

Paul: It's an interesting case. It's a case in which what was announced...

We have three minutes.

There was an anti-racist network that routinely confronts the Klan and Skinheads whenever they are conducting public rallies. Two years ago what was announced as a rally sponsored by the KKK was apparently supposed to take place at Love Park in Philadelphia at noon on a summer day.

This anti-racist network caught wind of this either through the Internet or other sources and they went as a group, not a large group, but as a group I think in large part in disbelief. Well, there was no rally. It was the KKK rally that never was. The people that showed up were anti-racist protesters along with two undercover police officers posing as Skinheads. Those two individuals eventually left the park after a verbal confrontation, got into a black sedan driven by FBI terrorism task force members. What happened as a result is the back window of that vehicle was broken apparently by one of the protesters. That is what they are alleging. Arrests were made.

As a result of those arrests police reports were generated and unfortunately for the protesters who were arrested, the information about those undercover officers was never revealed. We filed motions requesting the release of that information because we had information that there were confidential informants, it turns out they were undercover police officers. What the judge ordered was that in fact the Commonwealth, the District Attorney's office, had to reveal the identity of those undercover police officers because they were material witnesses to the event and the DA's office appealed that ruling and it was sent back to the municipal court judge who had made the initial ruling for findings of fact and conclusions of law that were issued today again reaffirming the order, her original order, to release the information about who these two undercover police officers were as material witnesses.

: This has been great. This is the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show. We've been talking to Paul Hetznecker, a lion of a defense attorney. L-I-O-N...Paul, amazing work you're doing. Thank you so much for doing it and for being on the show and I'd love to have you back.

Thank you very much. I'd be honored to be back again in the future. Thank you very much for having me.

Authors Bio:

Rob Kall is an award winning journalist, inventor, software architect,
connector and visionary. His work and his writing have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC, the HuffingtonPost, Success, Discover and other media.

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He is the author of The Bottom-up Revolution; Mastering the Emerging World of Connectivity

He's given talks and workshops to Fortune
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Story. He hosts some of the world's smartest, most interesting and powerful
people on his Bottom Up Radio Show,
and founded and publishes one of the top Google- ranked progressive news and
opinion sites,

more detailed bio:

Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind. Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives one person at a time was too slow, he founded which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big) to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project.

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