Richard and Lyfe Released on Bond

Summary of Richard and Lyfe's bond hearings, followed by an analysis of the patterns of state repression in Atlanta.

All opinions expressed herein are that of AARC unless otherwise stated.

Nearly 900 people in Metro Atlanta face charges and other legal consequences for their involvement in the historic 2020 George Floyd Rebellion and repressive operations against some of the most aggressively targeted are slowly moving forward. On December 22nd, Richard Hunsinger was released on bond, and Vida "Lyfe" Jones was released on January 15th. While Richard and Lyfe are now out of jail, they remain subject to severely restrictive conditions as they await trial. 

In both cases, lead prosecutor Ryan Buchanan argued on behalf of the state that the defendants should be denied bond and remain in jail until trial. At least eight people from the movement are have been denied bond and remain incarcerated.

We will continue to follow these cases and provide updates. Below you will find a summary of Richard and Lyfe's bond hearings, followed by an analysis of the patterns of state repression in Atlanta. We do not represent the perspectives of the accused but we are invested in their freedom.

Richard Hunsinger

Initially denied bond on the basis that he was a "danger to society", Richard Hunsinger was granted a $50,000 bond on December 18th, 2020 after his lawyer appealed to the district court. He will serve house arrest at his parents home in Virginia while awaiting trail.

Both the defense team and the judge compared Richard to Martin Luther King Jr. and Bernie Sanders, suggesting that Richard's alleged actions must be seen within a historical context of radical social justice activism. The defense argued that various iconic American political leaders have had histories of arrest, and that to further imprison Richard would be to detain a potential future leader. These comparisons did not stop a prominent far-right blogger and alarmist from exaggerating the nature of Richard's trial, and of alerting his sometimes-violent followers to the social media profiles of one of Hunsinger's loved ones, ostensibly for harassment or intimidation.

Lyfe

Lyfe's case came before Judge Linda Walker on January 12th, 2020. The prosecution primarily focused on new evidence alleging that Lyfe was present at the DHS/ICE building on July 25th, 2020 during a demonstration in solidarity with protests in Portland -- where unmarked police officers were filmed snatching protesters off of the sidewalks into unmarked vehicles -- the same event Richard was alleged to have participated in. At this protest, hundreds of people in dark clothing smashed windows and shot fireworks at the facility; it was one of the most celebrated events of last summer. The prosecutor specifically alleged a personal connection between Lyfe and Richard. Special Agent Stephanie Alexis Bennett from the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) testified at Lyfe's hearing. Despite this testimony, the defense and judge argued the similarities between Lyfe's case and Richard's case, questioning why Lyfe would not be granted bond if Richard was. Ultimately, the judge granted Lyfe bond at $25,000 but the prosecution motioned to hold the order so that they could appeal the decision to the District Court. 

Two days later, Lyfe appeared before a District judge who granted him $25,000 bond. Lyfe will be on house arrest here in Atlanta while awaiting trial, although he is also forbidden from using the internet of any kind.

The Role of "Leadership" in the Repressive Narrative

Over twenty million people participated in protests against the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, and in local protests against the murder of Rayshard Brooks. Yet in bond hearings, United States District Attorney Ryan Buchanan repeatedly argued that Richard and Lyfe were not simple arrests from a mass movement, but exceptionally dangerous protest leaders requiring isolation and, ultimately, imprisonment. The prosecution's strategy is to downplay collective action in order to place the blame on individuals, who come to bear the sole responsibility for the uprising. Many have already observed that the movement, conforming to the global norm, was largely decentralized, non-hierarchical, and anonymous. The most determined and concussive actions were not the result of individual decisions or choices, nor were they facilitated by a hierarchical or coherent command structure. These actions developed in an atmosphere of confidence and inventiveness developed by determined and diverse crowds across the country. It is reasonable to assume that federal law enforcement is aware of this dynamic, as they have spent untold millions monitoring and disrupting direct action movements for decades. What they cannot find, they do not hesitate to invent wholesale. The "anti-terrorism" narrative is not simply a legal strategy, it is a work of fiction. It is an exhausted and expensive cliche, a copy-and-paste of the notoriously ineffective foreign policy script cobbled together twenty years ago. When we go to protesters' hearings or write them letters, we should remember that we could easily be in their position, regardless of what we did or did not do. By design, this realization is intended to spread resignation and fear in the population, but could just as easily be an occasion for robust solidarity movements and campaigns.

Isolation

Both Richard and Lyfe were released from pre-trial detention on conditions of extraordinarily restrictive house arrest. These restrictions include: active GPS monitoring, no access to social media, severe movement restriction, no contact with co-defendants or any felons or felony defendants, no firearms, instructions to abstain from drinking and substance use, and required drug testing. In placing these restrictions, the state seeks to prevent the defendants from continuing to be a part of the broader movement, or even to enjoy their lives, despite the presumption of innocence upon which US law is built. 

Prison is not a site, it is a condition of life under the law, and it is spreading. We must recognize and combat the dynamics within the state and liberal policy reform alike that could goose step all of humanity into a bleak "freedom" of this nature, in which the cost of social peace is continuously raised under the pretense of "fighting terrorism". Only robust and creative direct action movements can meaningfully challenge the repressive logics that are increasingly normalized in cities and online, while expanding spaces and practices of freedom when they are threatened.

Social Media

As we see more and more frequently, social media generates crucial evidence in these cases. Because this area of law is still new and in many ways ambiguous, there seems to be a lot of leniency given to prosecutors when it comes to using social media as evidence and proof of criminal intent and activity. During Richard and Lyfe's bond hearings, the prosecution attempted to assert that private messages shared on social media were not only proof of involvement but confessions of guilt. The prosecution mentioned Lyfe's Instagram account frequently, reading decontextualized quotes as they attempted to paint a picture of Lyfe as a "violent extremist" and instigator. In rebuttal, the defense attorney remarked: "how could he be a leader with only 12 Instagram followers?" 

Given the condition of a social media ban for both defendants, it seems the state views social media as a dangerous realm of potential conspiracy. Last summer, infographics from Hong Kong, Chile, and elsewhere were translated into English and adapted for the needs of US protesters. Local prosecutors seem worried about this trend and hope to de-platform Hunsinger and Jones, who they erroneously believe to be generating these and other graphics, in order to prevent the spread of subversive memes.

Politics in the Age of Extremism

At the January 12th hearing, the Defense argued, with agreement from the judge, that leniency for Lyfe and others arrested last summer is necessary for opposing ascendant fascism. Lyfe's case was contrasted to the January 6 US Capitol protesters, who have been given lenient bond conditions despite the gravity of their charges. The defense made convincing arguments about the case and why, despite what one thinks about the actions for which Lyfe, John Wade, and Ellie Brett, are accused, participation in the movement of 2020 was a virtuous and worthwhile decision. Lyfe's lawyer stated explicitly that "to stand up for people who have been chronically wronged is something to be commended." 

The prosecutor and defense attorney agreed that Lyfe seems to have been "radicalized" (their words) around the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police. If this is true, his three months in pre-trial detention is roughly equivalent to his entire political life. The defense lawyer stated "sure my client is disenfranchised with the United States Government. I am disenfranchised from the United States Government. Most people in this country are; half the people sitting in Congress are disenfranchised with the United States Government." 

We should recognize from these arguments that grassroots "extremism" on all ends of the spectrum are affecting the trials of George Floyd protesters. The actions that radicals take increasingly guide the imagination of the general public and directly influence a polarized political playing field in new and potentially interesting ways. At the same time, courts and federal agencies are attempting to obscure their role in managing and containing social struggles. Especially since January 6th, the FBI is appealing to various constituencies as an neutral arbiter of justice despite their historic role in widespread repressive efforts against poor and marginalized communities. It is up to sober-minded people to observe the contradictions in power, making use of small opportunities while maintaining a realistic expectation of the state. If the authorities are able to continuously draw attention away from concrete actions, the mirage of their rule will lead another generation away from real social change.

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It is more important than ever to contextualize these actions, these cases, and these individuals amongst the millions who rose up this summer against racism and police violence.  We must not let the state hold Richard and Lyfe as scapegoats for the actions of the largest social movement in American history. 

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If you live in the Atlanta metro area, have been contacted by a law enforcement agency and would like support, get in touch with the Atlanta Anti-Repression Committee via email: atlantaARC [at] protonmail.com.

We are not lawyers - if you need legal representation or financial assistance, contact Atlanta Solidarity Fund (atlsolidarity.org). 

If you need help navigating the jail system, contact Atlanta Jail Support (atljailsupport.org).

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