Episode 1

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Published on:

21st Sep 2023

Ciaron O'Reilly on Life, Prisons, Religion and Julian Assange

In this episode, I speak with Ciaron O'Reilly.

Ciaron has had a unique life as an anti-war protester and social justice campaigner.

His philosophy involves a unique blend of Catholic faith and social justice activism.

He has broken into US and British defence facilities and disabled military

aircraft and facilities. He has been imprisoned in Australia, the USA, England and Ireland.

He was part of the Pitstop Ploughshares who attacked a US Navy warplane in Ireland

but were acquitted in a famous case in 2006 on the basis of a "lawful excuse" defence.

In this episode, he discusses his life, his philosophy and his thoughts about the future of Julian Assange.

The IFVG Evergreen podcast is a greatest-hits collection of evergreen content from the weekly show.


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You can email us. The address is trevor at ironfistvelvetglove dot com dot au

Transcript
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We need to talk about ideas, good ones and bad ones.

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We need to learn stuff about the world.

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We need an honest, intelligent, thought provoking and entertaining

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review of what the hell happened on this planet in the last seven days.

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We need to sit back and listen.

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To the iron pest and the velvet

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glove.

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Ciaron, thanks for agreeing to do this interview.

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Um, by way of background for the people listening, uh, we actually

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went to the same high school together.

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I was about four years after you, and I remember seeing you walking the, the

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playground, tall, lanky, big mop of hair.

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Even in those days, you were already protesting as a high school student.

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You were sort of in the media.

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and things at that time you're known as a protester.

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Yeah, well my last year at high school was when the Queensland government suspended

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civil liberties, so, and um, that just happened to be converging with a large

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anti nuclear movement throughout Western Europe and North America, and the response

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to that in Australia was an anti uranium.

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mining and export movement.

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So we began blockading the wharf when I was at high school and then Bioka

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Peterson suspended all street marches and gatherings of three or more people and

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handing out leaflets and all that stuff.

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So, um, My initial arrest at school, there were 418 of us arrested, uh,

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including, um, the lead guitarist of the Saints and, um, Ed Cooper and the

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lead guitarist of the Go Betweens, Grant McLennan, and a lot of other good people.

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You're in good company.

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And you were still at high school when you

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got arrested for the first time.

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Yeah, well, yeah, I, um...

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You know, just where we're here doing this interview, um, is where I grew

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up and we literally share a back fence with the military, uh, it's now called

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Gallipoli Barracks, and the Aboriginal word Anogra, uh, it's a suburb.

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And, um, so, you know, the sound of gunfire and helicopters going over the

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house, it was, um, part of growing up during the Vietnam War here in the 60s

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and 70s, so that was quite an audio backdrop, and a lot of the kids at my

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primary school, parents would have been in the military at that stage, and,

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um, And then also my father was very much an Irish Republican Socialist,

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I guess, and a very good singer.

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So, we were brought up with a lot of rebel songs and

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then...

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So, around the dinner table when you were growing up, was he quite strong

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on advocating for the sort of causes that you ended up getting involved in?

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Well, his father was a member of the IRA and, um, arrested during...

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The War of Independence, uh, and accused of killing a British soldier and then

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released with the treaty, and then during the Civil War in Ireland, he

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had to do a run at a Canada, and he got picked up crossing the Canadian border.

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And he ended up in jail in Auburn in New York, that I kind

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of ended up in 70 years later.

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Um, before being deported back to Ireland and Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.

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Um, so that was a very celebrated legacy in the family.

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Yeah.

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And my father was raised by his maternal grandparents who were big fans of

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James Connolly, who was not only an Irish Republican, but a socialist.

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And um, so, you know, when I was about eight or nine years of age, uh, the

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war in the north of Ireland kicked off again, um, following the repression

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of the civil rights movement and provisional IRA developed, et cetera.

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So, um, it was...

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Quite an intense, you know, what was happening in Belfast and Derry were

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more present to us than what was happening in Vietnam, which ironically

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was happening from behind our house.

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And um, my mother had three uncles who went through the base

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behind our house to World War I.

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One who was at Gallipoli, um, one who came back quite PTSD and lived for another

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40 years without contact in the family.

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Uh, so there's kind of a rich kind of history.

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And then we're going to school in the valley, which was a

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red light district at St.

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James, located there, Christian Brothers School.

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And then a lot of the police corruption was very overt in the

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valley with the prostitution and the gambling, which is now quite legal.

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But back then it was a source of, um, Police corruption

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and, and organized crime.

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So you are a bit of a product of your environment and your

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culture from your early days.

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It was, because most people, you know, I would have at least been

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terrified at the prospect of being arrested as, as a, as a teenager.

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So, you know, I look at it and think, well, you were quite brave and courageous

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and fearless to be prepared to do that.

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But I guess you were mixing in a circle, or you had family stories that made that

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a bit more commonplace than most people?

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Yeah,

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I guess I always viewed political activism in Queensland as a body

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contact sport, you know, and I'd grown up playing a lot of soccer,

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football, so I was used to body contact.

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But um, it was quite brutal.

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Uh, a Queensland police force and quite amateurish.

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Um, I was beaten up my first week at university and framed with assault.

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And the guy who beat me up was John Frederick Johnson of the Consorting Squad.

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And, you know, the Consorting Squad were a squad supposed to

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consort with criminals and...

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And he eventually got three years...

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He got sentenced to three years in prison by the end of that year.

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Um...

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And, and he beat you up, like he arrested you and beat you

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up, or he just found you in a...

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He beat me up,

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then he arrested me.

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I mean, on other occasions I've been arrested, then beaten up in the wash

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house, but this time it was on TV footage and everything, and um, and yeah, and

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then they charge, but when they beat you up, they usually charge you with assault

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to justify if any footage has been caught as a response, and I was very skinny, um.

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Kid, as you remember.

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And, uh, so yeah, that, that, uh, was, yeah, I was only 17 when that happened,

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so.

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Mm.

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So, just, um, just reading from the Wikipedia page on you here, um,

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yes, you took part in the, uh, civil rights protests against the Premier,

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Joe Bidjoy Peterson, in the 80s.

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And you came into contact with the Catholic Worker movement, and you

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subsequently founded Brisbane's West End Catholic Worker community.

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Yeah, we founded the Catholic Worker and West End in 1982, and prior

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to that, a group of us who were at Griffith University were developing

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an interest in the fusion, um, of Christianity, anarchism and pacifism.

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And I guess at that point we were...

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Quite influenced by an academic out there, Brian Laver, who had been like, one of the

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student leaders of the 1960s in Australia.

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And he was a libertarian socialist and had a radical critique of Marxism.

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Um, and then, during that period, we stumped, you know, we thought

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that we'd, uh, come up with this.

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Uh, intersection between Christianity, anarchism, and pacifism.

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Then we heard about Leo Tolstoy, read him.

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Then we stumbled across Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement

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that was actually putting this philosophy into practice since

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the 1930s in the United States.

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So we wrote to them, different communities over there, started swapping newsletters,

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and then we thought, oh, we'll open a house for Aboriginal street kids.

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And we'd had contact with, uh, there was a radical nun on the West End who

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was raising four Aboriginal children.

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And, um, I had contact with her, Cass Dawson, since I was at high school,

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and it just became very obvious that Aboriginal people were living in

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a parallel universe in Queensland.

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Until I was 8, it was illegal for an Aboriginal to vote in an election.

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Until I was 13, it was illegal to cohabitate with a Native

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under the Vagrancy Act.

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And, um, so it became...

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And my father had always drummed into us, you know, what's happened

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to the Aboriginal people in Australia, what's happened to

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the Irish in Ireland, and, um...

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Yeah.

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which a lot of Irish...

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Don't make that connection can be quite racist, you know?

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You know, I've never heard the connection myself until

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just now go colonized people.

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We've been colonized 800 years.

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So, you know, the term paddywagon is like nigga wagon.

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It's like bandwagon.

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It's an innately racist term, , but it's so mainstream.

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Even the left in Australia use the term paddywagon, you know, so, yes.

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Yep.

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So, um, So, let me see here, um, you were looking to address youth homelessness

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among the Aboriginal community, and you described the Catholic Worker Movement

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as comprised of three practices, um, in order to constitute a life of

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integrity, according to this Wikipedia page anyway, correct me if it's wrong,

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um, one is living in intentional community, the second is practicing the

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works of mercy, and the third is non violent prophetic witness, so, um, And

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you aim to enact this through living in community with the poor, uh, prison

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visitation and direct action against war.

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So in your early days, you sort of came up with that philosophy of life as what

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your guiding principles were going to be?

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Yeah,

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I guess, yeah, I would probably say prophetic resistance and, um...

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And, and looking, you know, at the early church before it got co

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opted by the Roman Empire as these kind of autonomous, relatively

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autonomous, utopian communities.

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And, um, and then also discovering the contemporary people who are

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still alive at that point, Dorothy Day and the two radical priests,

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Philip and Daniel Berrigan.

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Who led the draft board raid movement of the 1960s during the

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Vietnam War in the United States.

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So, they were kind of role models for us and um, so we began living

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off the grid together in West End.

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Our living out of baking bread, making candles and soap and um, homemade

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beer, and um, then inviting into that community, well primarily it was

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Aboriginal street kids, but we also had a few people released from Bogger

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Road as well, and um, and we would, we ourselves would, would be put into

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Bogger Road for like, being arrested for free speech, um, violations and, uh,

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blockading nuclear warships and stuff.

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So, and when they put us in Bogle Road, they put us in with the lifers

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and the heavies to scare us, but we eventually got on quite well with

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them and, um, we helped start, uh, the radio show on 4 Triple Z Prisoners

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Program that's still going, I think.

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Right.

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So...

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That was a lot of good interaction with the prison scene,

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and um...

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So, if you're entering, so Boggo Road, dear listener, if you're not familiar

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with Brisbane, was sort of a notorious old style prison, and um, it has a reputation

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that it was very rough, and, and, but you're, really the hardcore prisoners,

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are you saying, treated you not too badly?

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Is that what you're saying?

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Um...

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So, usually the chaotic factor in any prison is young people proving themselves,

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you know, people who are established or serious criminals, they just want to get

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out of that environment back to whatever.

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Anyway, um, so the chaotic factor is usually young people and, uh,

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And Bogger Road was largely staffed, there was a lot of ex British

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military, uh, with crews there.

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And a lot of them had done, a substantial number of them had done tours of

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Northern Ireland and the British Army, so they didn't like my name for a start.

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And um, yeah, so there was a lot of interesting interactions and uh, I was

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actually in there in 88 when the guys were on the roof, uh, which led to the

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Kennedy Inquiry that closed the jail.

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So we were able to do a lot of solidarity work and, uh, we were

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kind of well respected by people, um, who were active inside the jail.

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So you

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took this as an opportunity.

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to do more of the work that you were aiming to do anyway.

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Yeah, yeah, yeah.

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It's just another

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environment.

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Yeah, it was quite funny in 88, um, we're, after the guys were on the

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roof, we were back in and we're in the maximum security area in the

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old jail that's still standing.

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And this guy we knew is now dead now, Gary Gray, that he'd been on the roof and,

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um, They came up, approached us about, they were planning an escape, you know,

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and they, they'd managed to saw through the bars in their own cells and get into

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one guy's cell, which was near the wall.

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And they asked if we would help them with this escape.

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So me and this other Catholic worker, we said, Oh, can you give us five minutes?

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I'm all trapped in this small yard.

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And I said, yeah.

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So I went over and said, look, went back to him and said, look, if you

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can commit to non violence, we know you're not pacifists, they're like

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armed robbers and So the length of your escape attempt, then we'll help you, and

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they're like, yeah, we'll be non violent.

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So, okay, okay.

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So we told them where our car was and where they could hide out and come up

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as soon as we were released and give them some money and clothing and stuff.

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And, uh, we stayed up selling the rosary for a safe escape.

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And, and, but we, about three in the morning we heard screams and they were

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getting bashed and they got caught.

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Right.

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So, uh, that was interesting extension of the X mas, you know,

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and, uh, Preach liberty to the captives and all that kind of stuff.

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So,

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so, um, Joby, Jockey Peterson, um, your time in Boggo Road,

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uh, you know, Brisbane, a bit too small for you at that point.

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You were ready to spread your wings and head to America to look around and

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see the rest of the world.

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Yeah, well, I felt, you know, in an old Catholic term, it was a vocation

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that I wanted to do this for life.

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And I really felt in some ways I was leading the group.

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And Brisbane, I was the youngest, I was only 22, 23.

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So I felt the need to go and live with some elders and, and

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get advice about how do you make this a lifelong thing, you know?

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So, um, initially I went over, and 87, I also had wanted to do a plowshares

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action in the United States, because I saw that as the central empire

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in the world, um, and that, um,

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So you went to the States in about late 80s, 89?

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I went for 87 and, um, I was, uh, visited a number of communities.

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I was in a plowshares group preparing to do an action.

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And then, um, I came back, uh, a romance was falling apart.

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So I kind of came back suddenly here.

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And then 88, which was a bicentenary, which is when the guys were on the roof of

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the jail and the nuclear warship visits.

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And then I, that's when I got my last haircut, I think, in Bogger Road there.

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And then I went back in 89, um, with Moana Cole, who I'd met here.

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And, uh, we visited a number of communities and worked with

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communities, and then we...

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We're part of a ploughshares process that went for about 11

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months.

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Yep, so any initial, can you remember any initial things that struck you

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on the difference when you moved to America with the communities?

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So the, from the poor, you know, Aboriginal communities you're dealing

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with in West End to the, to the poor.

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Black and, I guess, Hispanic communities you might have

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been dealing with in America?

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Yeah,

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I think, well, a couple of differences about America.

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America is probably the only, for what it's worth, church

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going part of the First World.

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Western Europe is largely post belief.

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You know, there's about a million practicing Anglicans in England

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who are mostly English and a million practicing Roman Catholics

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who are mostly not English.

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And then there's probably more, more practicing Muslims and

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Christians in England now and stuff.

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Um, so it's a big, you know, when you speak with language of faith

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in America, you're still in the mainstream, where you have to speak

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that way here on the left or whatever.

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You see, you know, you've kind of marginalized quite quickly.

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So that was interesting.

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The intent's different.

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Differences between poverty and wealth in the States is mind blowing.

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Yeah, the inequality.

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Yeah, and the lack of health care.

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And the AIDS thing was just really kicking off in a big way

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then, and the crack epidemic.

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And it's just a much bigger scene than Brisbane, you know, and uh, as is London.

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Yeah,

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so you were mentored or you're seeking some mentoring from Daniel

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Berrigan and Philip, who are they?

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Yeah, I'd met

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Daniel in Melbourne, um, Daniel.

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He joined the Jesuits at 16.

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He was quite a celebrated poet in the 1950s.

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He was part of the Kennedy circle, President Kennedy, and his

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brother Philip had gone to war.

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He was in the Battle of the Bulge, killed a lot of people in his late teens and

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saw a lot of death and he came back and joined the He actually, when he came back,

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he went to college at GI Bill, and he shared a room with John Cusack's father

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for three years thereafter, and that's how John Cusack's kind of connected with us.

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And, um, so...

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What advice did they have for you, because you were

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looking for advice Josephite order, which was working with black Americans, and

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he was influenced in Louisiana by Martin Luther King's movement, and then they...

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Then brought that kind of experience to the anti war movement and they broke into

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a draft board, nine Catholics, called the Catonsville Nine, and um, it was a kind of

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iconic photograph from the Vietnam period of them burning draft cards with homemade

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napalm on the front page of Time magazine.

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So it was that significant, quite centrally placed in the 50 million

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Catholics in the United States.

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And then the FBI had a meeting in Nixon and they effectively marginalized

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them in a very similar way that Julian Assange has gone from front page of Time

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magazine to, you know, rarely being seen.

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Um, so they, they were the first ones who really introduced me to the scripture.

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Um,

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And they were part of Ploughshares,

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was it?

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They, well, following the resistance of the Vietnam War, which was largely

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breaking into draft boards and destroying draft files, uh, in the late 70s

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and 80s, they began to beat swords into Ploughshares, literally break

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into companies that are developing nuclear weapons systems and military

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bases, and with hammers, disable.

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Those

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weapon systems.

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Yep.

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So, Plowshares is a reference to the biblical prophecy of Isaiah, Chapter 2.

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And Micah, Chapter 4.

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Yep.

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Which says, They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and

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their spears into pruning hooks.

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Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither

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shall they learn war any more.

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So, taking swords and converting into weapons.

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Agricultural Implements Plowshares movement.

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That's correct, yeah.

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And so you, you became a member of the ANZUS plowshares.

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Yeah,

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sewage plowshares.

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It's like each Catholic working community is autonomous.

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So four of us, uh, grouped together, two Americans, Moana, who's from

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New Zealand, and myself, and we just called ourselves the ANZUS Plowshares.

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And we prepared to break into a B 52 bomber base as America was gearing

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up to bombing Iraq in the late 1990s.

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So you became aware of the bombers that were out there?

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Griffis Air Force Base?

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Yeah, there

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had been a plowshares action earlier there when they were being made nuclear

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capable in the late 80s, and we knew some of the people involved with that, and

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we also had, uh, Peter DeMott now, he's passed away, he was a Vietnam veteran,

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his, his job I think was guarding B 52s in Vietnam, but uh, he had access

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to the base, uh, being a veteran.

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Ah, right.

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So we had a lot of intel and, uh...

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Okay, because as I'm reading about your exploits there, I'm

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thinking, how did you pull this off?

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I mean, you would normally consider these things to be, you know, so unsecured.

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Impenetrable.

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Yes.

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So that's, you know, what we say is, the actions show the weapons aren't

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secure and they don't secure us.

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And, um, yeah, so, You know, other groups have got even more hardened

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sites and, uh, yeah, we just did our homework, said our prayers.

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We did surveillance of the base, we'd stay out overnight outside the base and time

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security vehicles and stuff like that.

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But it was high risk that we could have been shot.

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So, for those who don't know, um, after cutting through several fences, Bill

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and Sue entered a deadly force area and hammered and poured blood on a KC 135, a

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refuelling plane, and then proceeded to hammer and pour blood on the engine of a

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nearby cruise missile armed B 52 bombers, or bomber that could be used in Iraq,

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and then somewhere else, simultaneously, You and Cole, is that, is that Moana?

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Moana, Cole, yeah.

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Entered the base at the opposite end of the runway and made a sign of

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the cross with blood on the runway.

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Spray painted, love your enemies, Jesus Christ.

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Um, and you hammered upon the railway, chipping at two sections,

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one being nearly five feet in diameter, before you were detained.

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Yes.

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Yeah.

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So a month before we had broken in, but we couldn't get to the B 52.

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Yeah.

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And we broke out and kind of went on the run for a month, and then we went back

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on New Year's Day, which was a good day.

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Time to do it.

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And, uh, which was about 14 days before the war was launched.

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And, uh, this time we decided rather than going collectively, we'd split up.

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Give yourself two different options.

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Yeah.

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And so you must have been there quite a while.

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Yeah,

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yeah, yeah, yeah.

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Like Bill and Sue were arrested, I think, within four or five

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minutes after doing the disabling.

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And we were out there for an hour.

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Like, um, it was dawn.

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It was winter.

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It's heavy snow.

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And we could see security vehicles whizzing around the perimeter road.

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So when we saw them, we'd put our hammers down so they wouldn't

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think they were firearms.

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Held up a banner, but they just kept going and they were like detaining

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joggers jogging past the base.

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Then eventually, the daily, the air traffic controller of the base drives

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up checking for debris, basically.

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And, um, and that's when we were discovered.

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We invited him to join us, but he wasn't up for

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it really.

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And so you got about 12 months in

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prison for that?

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Yeah, so there was a debate between the Air Force and the Prosecution Department.

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The Air Force one was charged with sabotage and two of our people were

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sentenced to 18 years for sabotage.

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I think about five received sentences of eight years.

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And the Prosecution Department...

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I think they thought the war wasn't going to go as well for the United States as

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it did, and thought by the time we came to trial there'd be anti war feeling.

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And also they had prosecuted the previous Plowshares group at that base on sabotage,

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and they had successfully argued that the B 52 isn't innately offensive, not a

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defensive weapon, so sabotage is about.

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affecting the national defense.

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Right.

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And B 52s, well, the opening shots of the first Gulf War were eight B 52s took

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off from Louisiana, flew the longest combat mission ever flown, fired 35

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air launched cruise missiles at high priority targets, and flew back and

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refueled four times, where KC 135s.

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And then B 52s went to drop 30 percent of everything that was

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dropped in the first Gulf War.

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Um, that was equivalent to eight Hiroshima's and the B 52's from our base,

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the ones that were still operative, were moved to England and they bombed daily.

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Napalm, fuel explosives, cluster bombs.

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So, um, but ours didn't fly for, for that whole period, in the

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garage or whatever.

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Yep.

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And so prison in America, you'd been to prison in Australia on many occasions.

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Was there any?

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Differences or how did that?

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Yeah,

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I guess we were assuming we'd get three to five years.

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So we've got one year.

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It was quite a pleasant surprise.

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And then also assumed that I'd be doing my time in a penitentiary

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in the northeast and playing bocce ball with them after or whatever.

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But, um, they put.

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Put me on Conair, and they flew me to Oklahoma, which is the central hub.

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So Conair goes out northwest, northeast loops, southwest, southeast, brings

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people to this penitentiary in Oklahoma, and then designates you.

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So from there, they flew me to El Paso on the Mexican border, and then they shipped

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me Uh, about eight hours, I think, into the outback to a little place called

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Paikos, which was a county jail, and there were 24 of us in a cage, and six

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cages welded together, and 16 hours a day, those six cage doors were open, so I was

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effectively in a room of, you know, 140 men, and I was the only, uh, white boy in

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the jail for most of the time, uh, so it was 500 Mexicans and 50 of us who weren't

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Mexican, including about 25 Africans and Jamaicans and a few Filipinos.

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And, and was there a reason why they shipped you all the way over there?

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They generally have a policy in the States called diesel therapy, which is...

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to keep political prisoners on the move or geographically isolated.

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Yep.

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And, um, they achieved that.

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Like, all my connects were really in the northeast.

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Yep.

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Uh, west coast a little bit.

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But, uh, yeah, I didn't know anyone in Texas.

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Right.

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I didn't get visited for three months.

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And then, um...

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And did, so you...

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Again, it's so courageous to, to be prepared to do that exercise thinking

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you're going to get three to five years.

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Yeah,

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it's a sense...

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I remember I was, like, handcuffed.

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They were taking me in my first quarter, for instance, here in New York.

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And the television crew were there, and they shoved this mic in front of

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my face and said, Are you prepared to go to jail to stop this war?

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And I'm, like, handcuffed, and I said, Well, I guess I haven't

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got any choice now, you know?

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So it was just, like...

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You know, and a sense of abandonment.

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And, um, there's footage of me on YouTube being interviewed from the jail in Texas.

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And I, you know, I haven't been drinking.

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I've been exercising every day.

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I look, I look quite healthy.

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And, but it was a pretty stressful environment.

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Um hmm.

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Uh, you know, some really real brutality, uh,

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there.

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And were you a victim of that or were you just an observer?

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Ah,

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Initially, no one would eat with me.

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It's really interesting.

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Um, so I ended up eating with about ten transsexual prostitutes.

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So I used to have breakfast with them.

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And, um...

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People are quite willing to do other stuff with them, but not eat

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with them, which, when you look at scripture, it's quite interesting who

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you're allowed to eat with, who Jesus eats with, and the kind of laws he's

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breaking there, or cultural codes.

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Um, you know, I was on the only African soccer team in the jail.

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There were about seven Mexican teams, one African team.

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So whenever we played, there'd be like 400 Mexican screaming racists, as you said.

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So it was very atmospheric.

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Um, and you know, there were times when...

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They just ethnically cleansed the wing of any black people by just bashing them.

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And as soon as something like that would kick off, the guards would

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disappear and they wouldn't be back for like 45 minutes, you know.

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Yep, and they didn't care about your politics and what you'd done, like, did

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they see that as, were they supportive or they didn't care, or they were

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against you?

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A lot of the guards were ex military or presently serving in the National

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Guard and were initially hostile.

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Yep.

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And then, um, I was popular amongst the Muslim population, and people were like

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introducing me, oh, this is the guy who's hijacked a plane or blew up a plane,

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I'm like, oh, whatever works for you.

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You know what I mean?

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Um.

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So, I was getting, what saved me, literally saved my ass, was um, how

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much support correspondence I got.

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So after the first few weeks, the mail, I, I think I received like 2, 000 letters.

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Oh, wow.

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And I became quite a celebrity, especially amongst stamp collectors in the jail.

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And um, that helped me, playing football helped me, soccer, and um,

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then I started, I'd go to mass and I'd be the only non Mexican at mass.

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I played, uh, I wrote, I started writing letters in English to

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people's lawyers and girlfriends, and that made me quite useful.

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Right.

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So I just built up my base from there and, and, yeah, I was probably in

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about five physical altercations.

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Yeah.

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Which is quite a lot for a pacifist.

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Yes.

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But when you're backed into a corner, that's all you can do, I guess.

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So you got out of there and it's some, somehow you ended up, um.

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Uh, in London or in, in the UK, did you come back to Australia

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and then off to the UK?

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Yeah, I

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got, eventually, essentially yesterday was the anniversary of the date I was

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supposed to get out, June 15th, and before that they, they transferred me to

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a penitentiary in Louisiana where they had two federal courts and they charged

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me with being guilty of a crime of moral turpitude and overstaying a visa.

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And put 50, 000 bail on me, and, um, I'd never heard the word

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turpentry before, had no clue what it was, you know, and, um, so...

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I was there for another six weeks after my release date and

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then people raised the 50, 000.

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Casey Kasem, do you know Casey Kasem?

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He's the voice of Shaggy on Scooby Doo and he's quite a big DJ, America's Top 40.

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He put 20, 000 in and different people put money in and Moana had 25, 000.

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She was up in a jail in Pennsylvania.

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So eventually we, we got bailed.

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I'm assuming you can't go back to

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America?

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No, well, in the bail application.

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The Air Force said it was a national security threat to the United

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States, which was very flattering but hardly anything to do with reality.

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And uh, being, if you're convicted of a crime of moral turpitude,

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that's what they got Charlie Chaplin on, to keep him out of the States,

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so they eventually dropped that.

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And um, I had my deportation hearing actually, where Julian's going to be

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brought to in Alexandria, Virginia, which is very CIA dominated, uh,

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with Langley there and stuff.

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Yeah.

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And just leading up to my deportation hearing.

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Uh, the World Trade Center bombing happened, uh, Waco happened, and

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half of them were Australians and Kiwis and English, non Americans.

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And then two CIA were shot at Langley by an Al Qaeda

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operative, um, leading up to...

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So it was a bad atmosphere to have a deportation hearing, where Moana had one

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five months earlier and she got a plea bargain where they didn't deport her.

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Oh, right.

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And she left

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voluntarily.

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Yep.

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So, um, you, you, you make your way to the UK.

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Did, did you have a passport?

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Like, you're a dual citizen to get, did they, they were happy to have you?

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Okay,

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so I got deported back here.

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Yes.

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And the Christian Brothers gave me a job teaching truance out at Logan.

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Yeah.

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And then, I went to New Zealand, uh, helped start a Catholic Worker there in

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Christchurch with Moana, then came back here and we started a Greg Shackleton

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house at St Mary's in South Brisbane, and that was focused on East Timor before

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it became mainstream popular, really.

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And, uh, named after the Queensland journalist who was killed at Balibo,

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Greg Shackleton, and we brought his widow Shirley up to, to open it.

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And we did a lot of good activism around that.

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And then, and...

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At the beginning of 96, four women broke into a British aerospace

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facility in Lancashire in England, and I knew one of them.

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And ironically, there's such respect for private property in America,

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if not for human life, that when we got out of jail, they gave us our

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hammers back and our bolt cutters.

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And we sent them off to England, and they were used twice, three times there.

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And they kept getting them back, and then we used the

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same hammer in Ireland in 2003.

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So where's that hammer now?

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It's in a, it's in a hammer, a pacifist dump in Kilkenny, I think, it's still,

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they haven't been put beyond use.

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Okay.

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They're still out there.

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All right, haven't been lost.

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No, no, no.

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Obviously got historical.

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No, an artist friend of mine used them for a few art projects and stuff, yeah.

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But one of them's done quite a few million dollars worth of disarmament, yeah.

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Wow.

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So in 96, I went to organize around these women's trial in

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Liverpool and they were acquitted.

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It's the first time a plough shares group.

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Had ever been found.

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Now guilty.

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The lawyer in that case was Gareth Purist heard, freed the Guilford

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four on the Birmingham six.

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She's Emma Thompson, placed her in the name of the father.

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She's now defending Julian Assange.

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Yep.

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She's about 18 now.

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Gareth and John Pilger gave evidence in that case.

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Jose Rumors ter, that it becomes President Prime Minister.

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His Timor gave evidence and the local Scouses in Liverpool mobilized.

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There's a lot of really good solidarity.

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So, we end up forming a community and these East Timorese that

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occupied embassies in Jakarta, who'd been given safe passage

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to Portugal, came and joined us.

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We kept breaking into BAE every three or four months and BAE

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took me to the High Court.

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They also put a spy in our group for three

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years.

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Right.

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Did you expect to have a spy put in

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the group?

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Well, as soon as the women were acquitted, the Lancashire Special Branch approached

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a former policewoman to infiltrate us, and she went to the Guardian, got

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wired up, went to a second meeting with Special Branch, and exposed it.

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And then we were pretty stupid not to expect them to try again.

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And this time, BAE approached a private security firm, uh, who'd

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already had infiltrated the campaign against the arms trade, including

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that of a guy who was a full time...

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paid worker and he was working for this security group and they got this guy who

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went under the name Alan Fossey but who you'll learn is Sergeant Alistair who

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used to be in 14 Company and they're the ones who did the spying and targeting

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for the SAS in Northern Ireland.

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So he was in and around our group for three years and that was eventually

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exposed by the Sunday Times.

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Right,

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must have been a shock for you when you found out.

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Well,

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I didn't like him.

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And I, I had a kind of intuitive feeling, but I was saying that's, you know, I

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was, I was raised kind of, I don't know, anti English, but definitely sceptical

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of them, so I was kind of telling myself, no, that's just your prejudice against

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English and stuff, and I should have went with my gut feeling, really, you know.

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Anyway.

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So, you were...

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Because he would be feeling...

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The dangerous thing was he would have been feeding intel back to the

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Indonesian embassy in London, putting people's lives in danger and his team

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of the guys who were active in England.

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So subsequent to that, did you in your activities then

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have to be mindful of spies?

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Did you change your practices thinking?

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Could be a spy amongst your crew.

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Yeah, in retrospect it's 2020 vision, so even in the late 70s, most, the

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anarchists used to gather at Planet Press in the Valley, and now we learn that

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Dan Van Blakham, who ran that press, was recruited by Don Lane into the Special

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Branch, as a Special Branch informant in the late 1960s, initially portrayed

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the Nazi party, and then later he turned his attention to the anarchists.

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So, we were infiltrated pretty early on, and then, in Dublin I think we

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were infiltrated, and I think we were infiltrated in London as well, so,

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anyway.

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It's pretty hard to, it's pretty hard to sort of know what to do.

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What do you do?

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You've got a group of a handful of people, or dozens, and if you're

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going to organise something, it's, it'd be difficult to try and...

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Well, if you're doing, if you're doing anything high risk, it's

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got to be on a need to know basis.

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So I've been in environments where I sense something big is going to

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happen, but I'm not involved in it, so I don't need to know, so I don't ask.

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If someone doesn't need to know, you don't tell them, because that

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makes them vulnerable to conspiracy charges, so you have to be quite

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disciplined about that, and uh,

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yeah.

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So, you had an, um...

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There's Northwood Headquarters in Northwood, Hertfordshire, it was

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sprayed some red paint on a sign, got arrested for that, and...

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Yeah, so we,

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we had two Catholic, we started a Catholic Worker House in Haringey, Giuseppe

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Conlin House in 2010, and there's also a Catholic Worker Farm at Hertfordshire.

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And also out there is Northwood Headquarters, and that's a NATO

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base, and it's also where they ran the Falklands War from.

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It's a very, very significant base and like the mainstream anti war movement run

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by the Trotskyist groups and the Labour Party never took people out there, you

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know, they had people marching in their tens of thousands up and down empty

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streets in London, but we focused on resistance there and that was the place

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to go, you know, and, and, you know, these groups infiltrated the highest levels as

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well, they've stopped the war coalition in London, our anti war movement.

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And, uh, they basically steered people into these dead end protest channels

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and, um, yeah, the movement never significantly moved from protest to

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resistance in Ireland or England, really.

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Yeah.

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Um, so, yeah, we were arrested out there.

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We were raided by the counter terrorist squad at the farm.

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Um.

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I think I was, I was detained six times in two years under

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counter terrorist legislation.

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Dublin, Belfast, London, and,

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uh, And did you think to yourself at the time, gee, we've been unlucky

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to be caught this many times?

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How

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did we end up?

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Did you ever think?

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No, they're, they've got unlimited resources.

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And especially what we did in Ireland just totally embarrassed them.

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And they spent millions and millions of Euros on us in Ireland.

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Yeah.

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And, uh.

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So, so maybe talk about what happened in Ireland with the Pit Stop plough shares.

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Okay.

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Yeah.

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Um, or the Pistol

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Flash, yes, Pistol Flash, at Shannon Airport.

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Okay, so, after doing the, the last thing with the T Marie stuff, I did about a 10

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week vigil outside the Indonesian Embassy in London as they were leading up to

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voting for independence there and stuff.

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And then I came back and we did the action at Jabalooka, where we

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disabled uranium mine equipment and so I ended up in jail in Darwin.

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And um, Um, went back, went to, moved to Ireland in 2002 and the Americans

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had already started bombing Afghanistan and Dan Berrigan was visiting and Dan's

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quite well known in Ireland when Bobby Sands was dying he requested to meet

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the Berrigans, they flew over but the Brits wouldn't let them in to visit him.

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Um, So we had an event and 2, 000 people turned up to it.

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We only had room for 1, 000, people away.

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And that was in mid 2002.

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And then, quite rapidly at the end of that year, five of us got together.

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Eight days before the action, two people had never met the other two.

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Whereas in America, we were...

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Marlana and I were processed for 11 months, every second weekend we were taken

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to a secret location for preparation, and different people came in, left

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the group, and then in the August of that year, Bill and Sue joined, and we

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closed the group, we were ready to act then, and it was another six months

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before we did, but we were meeting every two weeks in a very disciplined way.

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This one was kind of thrown together, and We broke into Shannon Airport, which

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was a civilian airport on the West Coast that had been rapidly militarized to

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refuel for American troop movements.

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And, um, we were able to disable a US Navy warplane that was en

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route to Iraq, and we turned it around and sent it back to Texas.

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So, we were arrested, um, denied bail initially.

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So I was in Limerick Prison for about a month, and then when I was, took bail.

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Uh, because we were being misrepresented, like the mainstream media was saying

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a police officer was assaulted during the action, and obviously I was being

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my size, that was the likely suspect.

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And then, you know, when we went to trial, three times we went to trial.

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Two years later, that police officer got up and said that I had comforted

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him while he was having a stress attack.

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But, you know, on the front page of the Irish Times, it was

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that I had assaulted the police.

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You know, it's bullshit.

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And also, it's, the other lie they said is we cost the Irish taxpayer,

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we charged them two and a half million dollars criminal damage, and

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the Irish taxpayer was going to pick up that bill, which was bullshit.

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Um, and, uh, So I had to come out and like explain the action, uh,

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so I was going around giving talks in different places, and the other

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people finally all came out, and um, the bail conditions were quite harsh.

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I had to sign on every day at a specific police station, Pier

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Street, near Trinity College there.

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And I wasn't allowed into County Clare, where the airport was, and

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also banned from two mile radius U.

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S.

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Embassy in Dublin.

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So it was very restrictive of our conditions, and in that period I

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was working in a homeless shelter for chronic alcoholics in Dublin.

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So there were three trials, the first two were aborted, so, um, the first one, let

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Judge, Judge O'Donnell agreed with defense counsel arguments that his adjudication

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was tainted with a perception of bias.

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Yeah, he was so keen to jail us that he pulled the trigger too early.

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So he, we had two of the top, two barristers in Ireland who...

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Volunteer their services, you know, agree with their action, basically.

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And a very good gin, Javaris, a very good solicitor.

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Uh, but we later learned that this was his first criminal trial, actually.

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He didn't tell us that, but it was very, very good.

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It came all the way from Cork.

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We had a very good legal team.

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So I guess we kind of gifted our liberty.

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And these people gifted their legal skills and other people,

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musicians were doing stuff for us and

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people driving us around.

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So in his comments or directions he made it clear he was biased.

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They

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say, yeah, so they, outside tried to introduce a witness

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and he ruled out a defamation.

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It's our defense without hearing defense arguments, because

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they're that keen to knock us off.

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So, but he had the presence of mind, he said, he'll think about this over the

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weekend, and he came back and um, he, he ruled, like we disabled the plane and

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then we formed a circle and prayed, and he said that we weren't serious about

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disabling the plane because we stopped.

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Right.

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And we said, obviously he doesn't believe in the efficacy of prayer, but um, he, he

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had the presence of mind to say the media couldn't report on, on what had happened.

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And uh, so six months later we went back to trial.

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Yes.

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And it went for 11 days and we had a kind of apparition on the

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11th day that this judge was a personal friend of George Bush.

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How did you find that out?

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Well, we put it down to an angelic apparition, I can't really say.

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Anyway, so, um, so we're in this meeting and we're like, you know, should we

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go back and confront him with this?

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And I'm like, what's the negatives?

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And they said, well, you know, he might sentence heavier.

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And we all looked at each other and said, yeah, let's go and get him.

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Yeah.

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So we went back into court and he.

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He fled the court in such a panic that he forgot to put a media ban.

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So the next day, the next day, there's photos of him and George Bush.

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Now, right at the beginning of that trial, when they're picking the

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jury, he was saying that if there's any perception of bias, you should

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recluse, you know, stand down.

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And a woman had already been chosen, got up and said, Look, I just recalled

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my daughter's an airline stewardess and might look that I'm prejudiced.

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And our barristers got up and said, I want to thank you on your integrity.

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And the judge said, I too want to thank you on your integrity.

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Well, this guy had no integrity.

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He'd attended the first inauguration of George Bush.

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You know, he'd been invited to both inaugurations.

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So then we went to trial a third time and, um, we ran out of the fence

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and we were unanimously acquitted.

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Yes.

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So Judge Miriam Anderson had agreed on day nine.

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Um, so, um, acquitted because, uh, the jury feels you honestly believe

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that you were acting to save lives and property in Iraq and Ireland.

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And the disarmament action was reasonable, taking into consideration all of the

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circumstances.

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Yeah, so we had a reasonably held belief, which is subjective,

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that in the circumstances we understood them to be subjective.

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That by damaging property, Shane Airport Island would trigger a chain of events

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that would preserve life in Iraq.

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Yes.

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And we called this expert witness, who was a former RF Wing Commander,

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who came out from England.

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And he talked about logistics, you know, and, uh, and that helps.

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And we also had U.

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S.

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military veterans, you know, including guys who killed people at

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a checkpoint and stuff, uh, testified of the brutal nature of the war.

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And we had Dennis Halliday, who's the U.

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N.

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guy running the All for Food program.

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He resigned denouncing the sanctions as genocidal.

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The Irish Quaker guy, he testified with Cathy Kelly who was there

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under the bombing in Baghdad.

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So the jury ended up hearing a lot of good evidence.

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Hmm.

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And it took them four and a half hours to decide.

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Yeah, yeah, yeah.

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So, when, when after four and a half hours they said the jury's ready, you must have

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felt confident.

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Yeah.

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Well, I'm like my mother, I'm a natural pessimist.

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And I was packed, cleared my social cover with that, and I was

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told I was going to get at least three years, uh, in my history.

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When you were doing the action, did you have any idea that this possible defence

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was there that you might be able to use?

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Um, I don't know.

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I think Damien, Damien was young, he'd never been arrested before, he's

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a seminarian, he was in our group.

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And he's a lot brighter than me, and I don't know if he had looked at that.

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Right.

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I hadn't.

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I'd really...

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Because you went into it expecting, again, to go to jail for three to four years.

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Yeah, I also assumed, like, in New York we defended ourselves.

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We had co counsel that advised us, um, and I thought at least

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some of us would defend ourselves.

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But the group...

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There were two, two Irish born people who had never been arrested before,

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done these kind of things and then the Scottish woman, the American woman had

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done actions before, but not, not facing this much amount of time, so in the, in

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the end, I had, I deferred to the group.

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That, um, would all be represented, yeah.

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And they did a very good job, the legal team, so, I thought, well, I've

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done the action now, they can run a trial, if someone wants to write a

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song, they can write a song about it.

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Yeah.

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You know, so, you know.

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And then we got a lot of support about, first trial, about 50 Catholic Worker

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Plowshares people came from the States.

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Yep.

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So it was a big reunion, hadn't seen these people in 10 years and stuff.

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Yep.

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And, um, Yeah, it was, and then, uh, yeah, it was great.

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Now,

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these days, you're living in Brisbane.

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Yeah.

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And you're playing soccer with refugees.

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Yeah.

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Because, we had to work around that for this interview.

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What else are you doing

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here?

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Well, I came back two years ago because my mother's developing dementia,

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and she can't really be left alone.

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So, the last, the previous ten years, you know, helped start

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this Catholic Worker House.

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Uh, housing about 22 homeless refugees in London.

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And, um, and then I met Julian late 2010.

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So it was Julian and Chelsea Manning were my big focuses.

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And I hooked up with Chelsea Manning's family in Wales and we did a lot of good

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solidarity work, especially Dublin Wales.

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And, and you know, where Julian used to visit him in the embassy

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and I had a God, I, I've got a godson who was in the British s a

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s, who became a Catholic pacifist.

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So for a while we were Julian security, getting him into court, out of court,

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kind of running the scenes outside the court scene, scenes at the High

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Court, and then outside the embassy and inside the embassy visiting him.

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And then at the beginning of 2018, I was asked to, I was, I went back

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to Ireland and I was asked to keep a presence up outside the embassy because

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I think from March 2018 when they turned the internet off on Julian, they

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felt that it could happen at any time.

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And then November.

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2018, it was getting really bad, but they were pretty much live streaming to the

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CIA and back to Ecuador, and the local cops were live streaming outside, uh, the

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special branch was visibly there, outside, um, and they asked me to move, to be 24 7,

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so I, I took up residence on the street.

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Right.

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And it was like English winter, you know?

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And then the royal family of Qatar turned up, they owned the building, and

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Harrods, the building's real name was in.

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And so, you know, there's just heaps of security and eventually these three

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guys, the Belgian guy, the German guy...

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They walk into a

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bar.

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They walk into a bar, yeah.

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Sounds

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like the start of a joke.

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And they're all very skilled, manually skilled.

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And they, these Belgian guys, just went around these worksites, got

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all this wood and built me like a coffin with wheels and handles.

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And, um, so I could sleep in this...

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Coffin box, really.

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And so I was sleeping on Hans Crescent.

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This is like the wealthiest part of London, full of Saudi princes,

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Russian oligarchs, football managers and players and stuff.

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And, and then all of a sudden there's 18 princesses there, you know.

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And, um, so I end up getting fed by the Royal Family for a while.

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Um.

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Yeah, so anyway, I was getting harassed.

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They were threatening to get rid of me with an ASBO.

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And, uh, I thought, oh, they've got an ASBO for Hans Crescent.

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They haven't got one for this dead end lane under Julian's bedroom.

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An ASBO?

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Antisocial Behavioural...

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And, uh, which they needed very little evidence from.

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So, the night they raided me, I got up, emptied my box.

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A special branch light directly opposite.

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And, and I wheeled it down to the dead end between Julian's window.

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And this other building that goes down seven floors where all the Harrods

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trucks warehousing would happen, that 11 loading ramps down there.

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So the last 15 metres of this lane was kind of a dead zone, no one used it, and

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I just stopped, you know, pulled up there.

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But there was just heaps of security, those Harrods had their own security, then

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there was Special Branch, then there's the local Plod, and then there was SO18, and

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then there's Ecuadoran security, and then the Royal Family had their own security.

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So, it was just layers and layers of security, and a lot of the time, I had

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a small group of people who were like, supporting me, uh, but a lot of the time

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I was just there by myself, you know.

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Right.

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And uh, and in this lane there were 23 cameras, so it

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was very...

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And you were there for the purpose of, of what?

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Well I knew Julian and, and you know, um, and we were friends and like, he,

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he likes me, like he, I think he kind of finds me pretty humorous, and um...

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Because I'm not techy at all, all this stuff goes over my head.

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So he could look out the window and he'd see a friendly face, you know,

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and then they weren't allowing anyone there after 5pm, so he's by himself.

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from 5 p.

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m.

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through till 9 a.

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m.

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in the morning and, um, you know, they were suspecting they'd be raided and

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that I was supposed to give an alert or something and, uh, I was also doing

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counter surveillance like, um, I began recruiting people around the area to

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help and then also working out where Special Branch were and, and stuff

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and feeding that back into Julian.

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Right.

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Yep.

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So, we're recording

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this on the...

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I was going through the embassy's trash as well.

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I'm kind of trying to find anything relevant.

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Right.

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Yep.

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Yep.

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Um, we're recording on the 16th of June.

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Uh, we've recently had a new government in Australia, a Labor government.

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So, there's a, I don't know, in the circles I frequent, a sort of

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a, a bit of an optimism that maybe the Albanese government will...

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The working in the background to hopefully get something done in Julian's favour.

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What's your feelings or thoughts on his prospects?

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I think, you know, I think the national security state would have

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even stopped Trump parting him.

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I Snowden.

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Um.

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And Pompeo, I think, is a driving force to crucify Julian.

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I think the Americans must feel that damaged him enough physically and

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mentally now that he won't ever have the capacity he had in 2010, you know.

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And, uh, If the Hill was a popular figure in Australia, which I can't

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see any evidence that he is, um, the Americans would let him go, saying,

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because they need Australia in terms of their strategy to encircle China.

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Um, the Labor Party people, except for Julian Hill and some backbenchers,

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but the heavyweights, they never say anything off principle.

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They don't talk about free speech.

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Barnaby Joyce actually talks about, not that I'm a fan, but free speech, national

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sovereignty, he's Australian, and Bob Carr, now that he's retired, you know,

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talks about these principles, but the only thing you get out of Barnaby, uh,

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Albanese and Penny Wong is, it's gone on too long, which is a bit like, I'm

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bored, it's gone on too long, and maybe...

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You know, maybe there's something happening in the background, but

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in the foreground, you need a lot of noise and interventions.

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And, uh, and it's very hard since back in Brisbane, I don't even know where to stand

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with a sign in this town, really, you know, where the context would make sense.

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So, um, so, you know, the most.

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You know, I've accompanied Julian's dad on speaking gigs and stuff for Nimbin

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and there's more in here, and I've, um, I've done a bit of solo vigilling, um,

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but, uh, you know, like I confronted Boris Johnson in Dublin by myself, and I

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confronted Alexander Downer in London on the street as well, so those opportunities

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don't seem to arise here that much.

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No.

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Yep.

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So you sound a bit pessimistic really still.

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You're not...

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I'm naturally

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pessimistic.

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Um.

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Mm.

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And I told that to Julian, you know, I remember saying to Julian, I don't, I

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don't think your feet are ever going to touch the pavement again, given that it

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was carried from the Jembassy to the, to the, yeah, it's prophetic so far.

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And um, You know, I was very pessimistic about his fate, really, and they did

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such a job, especially in England, on character assassination, and the

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lazy, cowardly response to the plot of Julian Assange is some cynical

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quip, but if you look at it closely...

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You'll see that what they've done is, and the Guardian's worst culprit,

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is to weaponize his disability, his asperges against him, and somehow

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present him as an arrogant arsehole, which I know him personally is not.

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And uh...

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It's, uh, it's a slow motion crucifixion and it's, it's tragic,

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uh, and, uh, and yeah, he's done a lot better than I thought he would

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in jail, uh, that he hasn't died.

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Um, like I ended up, I lived on, once he was taken, I then moved to Belmarsh

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Prison and I had a set up on the traffic island at the front of Belmarsh

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Prison for about six weeks and then the Labor Council, Woolwich Labor Council.

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Not only took my stuff, they actually cut down the little trees I used to hang

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a banner between, like a little scorched earth, like through a wood chip, you

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know.

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You must be quite adept at living rough

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on the streets.

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Yeah, yeah, yeah, well, yeah, I mean, you soften up pretty quickly, don't you,

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get used to things and stuff, but um.

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Yeah, that was pretty wild.

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Yeah, um, so given the circles you mix in and the circles he mixes

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in, it just, you naturally came across each other at some point.

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Is that what happened?

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Yeah, I mean, at the moment, as you're saying, I don't

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get out of this house much.

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I go, I try and go to church in the soup kitchen, South Brisbane on a Sunday.

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I try and play soccer with the refugees on a Tuesday afternoon.

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I try and go to the pub once a week with a Welsh mate.

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And, but most time I've you know, pretty much stuck in the house with my mum.

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Um, I knew he was in real trouble in the end of 2010.

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I was at his first court appearance and I thought that really, you know,

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people will be distancing themselves, you know, very quickly from him.

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And um, and I had to think for 24 hours, you know, do I risk what

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credibility I have, um, supporting him and I decided to do that.

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Yep.

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And, uh.

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And, uh, it's just the people, it's like two million people marched

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against the war that he opposed.

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Two million people in London marched against that war.

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And there were hardly any English people around the embassy supporting him at all.

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They were mostly South Americans and Australians and Irish and stuff.

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So, you know, you just think where's solidarity gone, you know,

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where's the culture of solidarity?

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Speaking of solidarity then, Chelsea Manning, parts I've read, has been

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incredibly courageous in dealing with the US authorities when they were

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wanting sort of further dirt on Julian or cooperation regarding Julian and Chelsea.

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Said no, she struck me, yes, struck me as somebody very tough, very courageous.

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Yeah, and Yeah, we had a great time with her mother and uncle and aunts and very

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working class Welsh family and Haverford West and the mother's passed away now

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and the uncle's passed away, but yeah, Chelsea Chelsea, Chelsea was tortured,

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you know, I think in Kuwait and in, um, Quantico, and then ended up in a

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military prison and seemed to handle that quite well, I think, as things go.

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But it was looking at, it was doing 35 years, and you, you watch

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Obama's last speech as president.

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He's at a press conference explaining why he hasn't pardoned Manning.

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He was commuting the sentence and at no point does he mention the word Iraq.

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This is a war that he opposed, he voted against as a senator, denounced as a

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stupid war, um, and the only thing you hear from him is, Chelsea's done hard

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time, I mean, we've tortured the person, and, and some other thing, but um.

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Yeah, I don't think Obama, and Chelsea had attempted suicide twice at that

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point, and I don't think Obama wanted that on his liberal record, that death.

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Yeah.

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And Chelsea will never be in a situation to cause that damage to the empire again,

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like, neither will Snowden, you know.

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Yes.

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Where Julian, they perceive, has the capacity.

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It's fascinating,

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Ciaron.

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It's quite a

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life.

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It is fascinating.

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So, um, I'm interested in your combination of religious belief

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and political activism, and you mentioned earlier that one of the

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differences when you went to America was there was an acceptance of Yes.

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Faith and religiosity, whereas in Australia, when you're perhaps dealing

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with left wing groups, when you, when religion is brought up, it's, it's quickly

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dismissed, and I have to confess, I've got, uh, my personal dislike of religions.

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Um, yeah, I've done my intel on you.

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And so,

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I find it...

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Uh, unique that you're able to combine what I find is a distasteful,

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um, practice with something that is a positive practice.

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So if you weren't religious, I mean, you can consider yourself Catholic

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still, you identify as Catholic or spiritual or Catholic, yep.

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So, you know, if, if you didn't have that faith.

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Would all, could you have done all these things anyway?

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Would it have all made sense and have been a life that you could have done

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in the absence of faith and religion?

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Um, I think, uh, it wouldn't have, if God doesn't exist, it doesn't make,

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if God does not exist, this life wouldn't have made much sense, no.

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There's no rational basis for it and, you know, I think we're all...

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Given my background, and um, you know, I was raised anti imperialist, Irish

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Catholic, and Irish Catholic meant being oppressed rather than oppressing, and

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um, and you know, the Christian Brothers were kind of working class, and uh,

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and so I guess culturally, and I was an altar boy for eight years, so, I...

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And the thing about Catholicism is that most of our history we've been illiterate.

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So how things are handed down, it's not through the word,

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which is very Protestant.

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Yes.

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Those traditions of Al Bab and the printing press.

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Yeah.

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So it's all about ambience and costume and the sacrament and

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ritual and movement, art, you know.

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So I'm very comfortable and familiar with that and, um, and the Irish thing

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being more figurative and literal and...

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So, you know, I can immediately relate to Irish Americans and Irish

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in London or Irish in Ireland, like, there's a cultural thing there as well.

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Um, and, you know, I guess the conclusion I reached early was that as soon as

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Christianity, Christian discipleship, uh, compromises on the issues of an

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anarchist orientation toward power and a pacifist orientation toward violence,

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um, it's just been co opted, you know.

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But Everything faces co option.

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Punk Rock, Irish Republicanism, Feminism, Green Party.

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So what's the anarchism aspect of your philosophy?

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So when I think anarchism I think just Chaos without

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organisation or hierarchy, I guess.

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It was

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really funny, I was down in Liverpool in the 90s, this guy came up to me and

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said, I just bought this really big book on anarchism, Demanding the Impossible.

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It's a military helicopter, see?

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Yeah, yeah, it's the

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military passing overhead.

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And he goes, um, he goes, I just bought this big book on anarchism,

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Demanding the Impossible.

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He says, you're on the index!

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It's between Oppenheimer and Orwell.

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Oh, that's, that's great.

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O'Reilly between Oppenheimer.

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Oh, that's good.

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So, I kind of think, you know, a theologian I'm into, written on Mark's

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Gospel, Ched Myers, in his second book, he posits that Jesus asked

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questions rather than giving answers.

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He says the only thing he tells us to fend for is to pick up the

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cross, you know, but everything else is like a Zen Koan question.

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Um, So I think both.

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Because anarchism and pacifism are negative definitions, they're much

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better questions than answers.

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So an anarchist should be someone who lives with the question, how do I live

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a life without exploiting anyone, or lording it over anyone, as in scripture.

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And pacifist, how do I live a life without violence, you know.

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And I think those two things are implicit to Christian discipleship, but obviously,

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I thought we had a pretty good run for the first 300 years, and then we get co opted.

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by Constantine and, um, it goes from a very short period of being illegal

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to be a Christian in Rome for being an atheist, because you're not worshipping

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the God, sanctioned gods, uh, to being illegal not to be one, you know,

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and, uh, but in all these traditions.

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There's radical, right, the word radical is Latin for return to the roots.

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There's, you'll still meet radical punk rockers and radical feminists, even

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though those traditions are largely co opted, um, right, and trade unionists.

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And so these things related in the gospel to the temptations of the

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desert of power, wealth, and status.

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And that, you know, we just did a vigil outside the Anzac Day Mass where

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they've got guns in the cathedral.

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Yes, yeah,

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I saw that

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on Facebook.

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You know, there's the bishop, quite comfortable with the governor turning

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up in a Rolls Royce and with the head of the police chief and all these

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securocrats and, you know, and totally uncomfortable with his flock holding a

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banner up, you know, no guns in churches.

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And just thinking, oh well.

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And I think my father was kind of relatively anti clerical.

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See, wouldn't you be better suited in some way with the Protestant world, because in

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the Protestant world, anyone could be a minister, and people work out the faith

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for themselves from the book, and it doesn't have the hierarchy of the Catholic

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Church, so um, wouldn't, wouldn't So, in a sense, that philosophy be more suited

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to anarchism than a Catholic anarchism.

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Yeah, there are.

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Because Catholic's about hierarchy and, and...

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I

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think it's easier to go from a feudal society to an anarchist utopia than

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it is for an industrial society.

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And obviously, Catholicism historically is more related to feudalism, you

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know, and the Protestant work ethic to capitalism, industrialism, and

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the traditions and cultures.

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Um, and there are...

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Look, I'm not saying Christianity has monopoly on anarchist expression, there

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are Anabaptists and Quakers, radical Quakers, Richard Nixon was a Quaker,

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but um, and humanists and Buddhists who are anarchists and pacifists and um.

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They asked James Joyce when he left the church, are you going to adopt

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one of the Protestant denominations?

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And he said, I've lost my faith, not my mind.

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But um, yeah, and I have good Protestant, some of my best friends are Protestants.

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And also, they've obviously got the scripture, and we took the

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sacraments in a general kind of way.

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I think Pagans and Catholics are the best at organizing demonstrations

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because they've got a sense of, of, um, choreography and ritual.

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So I've done a few workshops with Starhawk.

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Ever heard of Starhawk?

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No.

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She's the only, um, witch denounced by the Vatican in modern times.

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And she was on Matthew Fox's, uh, thing at Berkeley.

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Okay.

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But she does these workshops day on spirituality and day on activism.

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And, um...

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I think her long term partner is an ex Catholic worker who went

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to jail during the Vietnam War.

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But, uh, the Protestant and the Marxist who, you know, come after

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the printing press, their rallies are just speech after speech after speech.

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They've got no sense of choreography or nuance or...

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And, um, they really believe in the spoken word and the, uh...

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Of the book.

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So they're partly cultural things, I guess, you know, so I don't go

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recruiting for the Catholic Church.

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Yes.

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And, uh, uh, I don't think the Catholic Church is that big on

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recruitment, like, uh, I don't think Jews and Catholics recruit that much.

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No.

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Whereas, you know, if you ask someone, Brisbane, what do you associate with

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socialists, it would be the same what do you associate with born again Christians

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who are trying to convert you, you know, and sell you a newspaper or recruit you.

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Yeah, they're more low key for sure.

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The traditional churches are more low key than the new muscular

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evangelicals coming out of America.

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Yeah, well, that's,

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those, that form of Christianity is overtly a part of their foreign

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policy, just like the Sauds have their own form of Islam that they wield.

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Uh, the Americans have developed this prosperity gospel that fits

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into imperialism and capitalism, and the CIA have actually pushed it to

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counter liberation of intelligence in South America, not America.

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And that's where you find, what you were talking before, people breaking up the

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scriptures themselves and lay groups.

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So in Ireland, we would, um, on a Sunday, we'd have a liturgy, mostly without a

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priest, and we'd, um, you know, say a few prayers for people, and then we'd read the

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scripture and we'd go around a circle and people would give their feedback on it.

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And then we'd break some bread and share some wine, you know, and, and I felt...

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Most comfortable in that atmosphere, and you know, ideally, that's what I'd

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be doing on a weekly basis and maybe going to church once a month, just to

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keep in contact with the tradition.

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Yep.

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Um, but that hasn't been happening for me for the last couple of

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years, so I've just started going to this Mass in a soup kitchen.

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Hmm.

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Now, you've, you mentioned before about you got some mentorship by

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the Berrigans, I think, you were to mentor somebody, a young person

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who wanted to change the world...

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today, but maybe didn't want to go so far as getting arrested.

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What, what,

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what's your advice to the young people who want to change the world today?

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Yeah, I don't think, yeah, I don't think prison should be entered in too lightly.

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And I think there's parts of my personality that are quite...

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suited to the environment or that I was robust enough to survive it.

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Partly that was, um, Christian Brothers education, but um, You know,

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so I wouldn't be looking for, like, plowshares, cannon fodder, um, and

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you've really got to be convinced that this is so significant, and for some

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young people it is the environment.

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You've got to be convinced that waking up every morning in jail

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is where you need to be to say a very loud no to what's going on.

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There's only going to be a limited number of people with that level of commitment.

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Yeah, but even the basic...

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The praxis of the Catholic Worker, which is like serving, dash,

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solidarity with the poor or the homeless, mixed with prophetic, I'd

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say, resistance rather than witness.

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Um, so you meet some people who are just into, you know, crying out for peace

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and justice and often they get co opted by NGOs and end up part of managing the

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empire, or you get some people who are just working with the homeless and they

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get kind of co opted by social work, managing the, managing the homeless.

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I lived with a Christian Atheist in London for about a year, and um, he,

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uh...

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So a Christian Atheist, let me guess, did not believe in a divine God, but believed

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in the, the ideals of Christ in terms of loving your neighbor and helping the poor.

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Yeah.

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Is that

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a Christian Atheist?

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He'd also argue that each political change revolution was preceded by a

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religious one, and the obvious one was Protestant Worker Ethic and Capitalism,

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but I can't really articulate it.

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I'll send you a little video about him, Peter Lumsen his name was, but he used

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to volunteer at three soup kitchens, he was kind of retired at that stage,

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two Christian ones and a Jewish one.

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And what he noticed was that people were willing to volunteer and

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work in the kitchen, talk to other volunteers, but very few were willing

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to actually eat with the homeless and break bread with the homeless.

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And that, he wrote this thing on the Eucharist from an atheist perspective

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about this is what Jesus did, you know, and um, it was funny because

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that related to my experience in jail, with people willing to.

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Have sex with the transsexual prostitutes, but not eat with them, you know?

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We're always kind of willing to eat with them, but not have sex with them.

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So

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when you go to a soup kitchen, you eat with the...

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Well, that's what I did today.

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Like, you know, I looked around and they seemed to have enough staff, so...

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And I told them, if you want me to do anything, I'll do it.

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But I just sat there for a couple of hours, chatting to

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people.

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So, in Australia or in Brisbane today, someone who's homeless

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and is at a soup kitchen...

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Um, is it because of, I have the impression that mental illness

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would be a major factor in that.

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Because I, my impression would be that there are programs and

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facilities out there for people and I, I sort of hear stories of.

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of government workers trying to bring people into housing but the people

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wanting to stay on the streets and I feel, is that, am I completely right

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or wrong or somewhere in between?

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Is mental illness and people's reluctance to come in part

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of it?

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It's real child abuse and mental illness and...

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Like, some of the shelters in the States run by the state were brutal,

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you know, worse than prisons really, and that some people would feel more

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vulnerable there to being bullied or robbed or whatever, and, um, but the

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place I went to today has obviously got a very disciplined environment

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that people realise that they're entering into a safe space and stuff.

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Yeah.

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And, um, so yeah, it's interesting.

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But, I mean, I've largely been away from Australia a long time and the

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last two years I haven't been out

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that much.

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Yeah.

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Okay, now just to finish off, Ciaron, and you'll be very generous with your

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time, but we're home straight, last bit.

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Just in terms of, um, Today's big problems, so, I'll give you a

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couple, and I'm interested in how you would rank them, in terms of what

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you see as the most important, so.

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One would be, sort of, Murdoch and media manipulation of the agenda and truth.

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So, media and information and monopoly control.

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Second one might be just the U.

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S.

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Empire and its control of so many aspects of the world.

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Uh, third might be inequality in terms of worldwide inequality.

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Climate change, or any other, you know, topic that you might think,

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when you think about what the big problems are in the world.

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What, what do you see as the prime?

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Yeah, I think, I'm trying to remember them all now, but, and obviously

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there's been a big change that I haven't been that sensitive to about,

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you know, the internet and media.

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Um, like I remember in the eighties, a few of us troop down to this migrant resource

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center to watch a film about El Salvador.

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We'd never heard of El Salvador before really?

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And it was this brutal film.

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And then we marched off to the pub, you know, about a dozen of us and

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like, what are we gonna do about this?

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And now we're kind of probably getting more information, but

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we receive it totally isolated.

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on the internet, on a laptop or a phone, and, you know, back then, you'd watch this

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film, you'd turn to the person next to you and go, fuck, that's bad, isn't it?

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What are we going to do?

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Whereas now you turn, fuck, that's bad, and there's no one there.

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And I've really, I've always enjoyed soapbox speaking.

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I did a lot of that in Hyde Park, I used to do that in Brisbane.

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And, um, where people can interject and you want people to interject

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because that gives you time to rest.

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Yeah.

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And you want debate.

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As soon as you get debate, the crowd builds and stuff.

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And then things happen in that environment that don't happen in a lecture theatre.

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People aren't as passive.

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And I remember being in Hyde Park and one guy said, I was in Iraq,

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now a total stranger on the other side of the crowd was in Iraq too.

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So they peeled off and probably had a really high quality conversation, you

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know, so it's not all about the speaker.

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And I just think it's such a shame, like, my father used to go to St.

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Henry Park there in the 1950s and stuff, and uh, that went through the 1960s, but

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the lack of that speaker's corner thing.

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Mm hmm.

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And...

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Yeah, I'm not sure, like this German woman West End recently told me that,

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I don't know if it's a German saying, she said, yeah, 10 percent wolves, 10

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percent shepherds and 80 percent sheep.

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I'm not sure that's accurate, but um, yeah, the media is

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so centralised, isn't it?

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And um...

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Our mutual friend Mario has been banging on about Murdoch's for decades

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now.

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Yes, yes.

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Um, yeah.

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Hey Mario.

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Like, he's a lot more moderate than I am politically, you know, so we have the same

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argument every week for the last 10 years.

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And then environmentally it looks, it kind of looks like it's too late

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really, but um, it's good that people are pushing back and, but I think in

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the last period too, you've got a layer of management which is NGOs, you know,

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and they're occupying a space that the Used to occupy, and the left has

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collapsed since, probably since the collapse of the Soviet Union, actually.

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Yep.

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And, um, so...

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And then, say, the Catholic Worker's always interacted with the left, and the

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1930s it was the working class left, so it was trade unions, the IWW, the 60s it

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was an anti imperialist left for Vietnam.

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Yep.

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Now it's like...

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Now

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who is it?

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Is there anyone...

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It's the

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identity politics crowd claiming to be the left, and they're like, you

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know, in the 70s our critics used to...

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Joke about us saying, you know, land rights for gay whales, you know, and

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it's, it's pretty close to that now, you know, so, and that's, that ideology

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just comes off the elite campuses in the United States and you see

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Australian young people adopt it just like the right wing adopt Trumpism or

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whatever, you know, so, you know, even.

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You know, how are we just a suburb of the USA, or is there any identity here

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that comes out of reflecting on our history, or is it just straight off TV, or

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Disney World, or something?

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Yeah, so basically the left has disappeared, so the Catholic worker

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movement has no left to liaise

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with.

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No, no, we've got our own problems as a movement, and um, you

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know, if we stop doing our own thinking, all we do is tail end.

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The latest liberal bash left trend, you know, and, uh, we've lost a

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lot of our best intellectuals, you know, the Berrigans and Dorothy Day

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and stuff, and, um, so I think the good thing about Peter Morin who

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founded our movement was reflection, clarification of thought, keeping to

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clarifying, you know, what environment are we in, why do we do what we do.

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Yep.

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And just to keep revisiting that, and there's, you know, in our culture

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there's a lot of stimulation but very little reflection going on.

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Yeah.

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Very little, you know, we're taught, uh, either explicitly or implicitly

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that you shouldn't talk about, you know, news or politics or sex or

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religion at the, at the dinner party.

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And self censoring, that way.

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Yeah.

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And I...

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You know, with my podcast, I actually normally start an intro saying this

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is a politic, uh, a podcast about news and politics and sex and religion,

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all the things you're not supposed to talk about at a dinner party.

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When I attend barbecues or dinner parties or whatever and start raising

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topics, I find people love it.

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Oh, they like it?

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Oh yeah, and they get into it and they, if they, you know, disagree,

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but they enjoy the whole thing.

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Yeah.

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And I think people have become...

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unskilled at analyzing and thinking about society and what's good and

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bad and what we should be doing.

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I think, I think we've lost the capacity to, to talk meaningfully about things.

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And I'll get into discussions with people and I'll think, boy, I'm like an

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A grade tennis player with a beginner here, you have not learnt some really

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fundamental things about concepts, ideas, debates, exchanging ideas.

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You think you do, but you haven't left first base yet.

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So yeah, I think that's a problem.

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So anyway, a little podcast like this, with 500 people listening or

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whatever, uh, my little contribution to that, so there you go.

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Well, Ciaron.

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Uh, marvellous conversation, really enjoyed it, and um, at some stage if

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anything happens and you want to announce something, um, uh, let us know and we'll

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advertise it.

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I'll take your email address and I'll flick you a few things, like

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the interview from Jarl in Texas and stuff like that, and this

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Peter Lumsden guy.

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Great.

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Alright, terrific.

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Thanks Ciaron.

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About the Podcast

IFVG Evergreen
This podcast is a collection of clips from the weekly long-form podcast called The Iron Fist and The Velvet Glove. If you enjoy the weekly podcast and want to listen to a curated selection of old content then this is the podcast for you
This podcast is a collection of clips from the weekly long-form podcast called The Iron Fist and The Velvet Glove. If you enjoy the weekly podcast and want to listen to a curated selection of old content then this is the podcast for you

About your host

Profile picture for Trevor Bell

Trevor Bell

Trevor is a podcaster, blogger and social commentator who is worried about the direction of Australian society and has a special interest in challenging divisive influences such as religion and identity politics.

Trevor practised as a lawyer in his own firm until a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease prompted an early mid-life crisis and a change of career. Now that his children have grown up and left the nest he has found time to explore his interest in religions, politics and the transformations taking place in our society.