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Legal Advice for Violent Radicals – By Van Jones, ESQ

Morgen on September 5, 2009 at 2:42 pm

I’m beginning to think this Van Jones character is a bit of a radical. The following is excerpted from an email composed by Jones in December 2001, and distributed to a network of “progressive” activists in the aftermath of 9/11 (other links here and here). Let me say at the outset that this all strikes me as pretty sound legal advice – if you are advising a network of violent, radical activists. Read on (emphasis mine below):

Let’s be smart during this period. Please follow these guidelines:

1. Remember that you have the right NOT to talk to any FBI agent or police officer at all for any reason. If agents drop by unexpectedly, you have the right to tell them that you refuse to talk to them without a lawyer. You have the right to ask them to leave and the right to tell them to contact your attorney (Diana Frappier at XXX-XXX-XXXX). If an agent calls and asks for an interview, you have the right to tell him/her to contact your lawyer (Diana). In general, FBI agents are smooth-talking, well-dressed lawyers who are good at getting people to talk to them. But remember: it is your right NOT to do so, without a lawyer.

2. From now on, do not say or do anything that would indicate that you are advocating, supporting, condoning or initiating violence against anyone for any reason. Even in private. Even as a “joke.” And “joking” about such things on or near telephones, or via email, is especially foolhardy.

3. Ask yourself, “Are there things I am doing in my life right now that could put me in a compromising situation, either legally or ethically? Am I doing anything that I would not want on the front page of the SF Chronicle or the NY Times?” Now would be a good time to stop doing those things, and to take all prudent steps to clean up any lingering messes.

4. Ask yourself, “Are there unresolved conflicts or closed lines of communications that separate me from other activists?” Now would be a good time to repair those relationships and sew things back up. Unresolved hostilities are the breeding ground for slander and disruption campaigns that pit activists against each other – at the worst possible times.

In the meantime, we must continue with our work. In fact, one of the main dangers in the new period is that we will over-react to this news, succumb to our hidden fears and feelings of intimidation – and then spread panic and paralysis among ourselves. That’s called: doing the Man’s work for him.

So let’s not go out like some bustas. Just know and exercise your rights. And never let ‘em see you sweat.

Thank you for your time and attention. Let’s keep working for the people.


I would probably be more inclined to cut Jones some slack on this if he was conveying this message in the capacity of legal counsel. But he wasn’t. He was the Executive Director of the primary organization he was addressing – the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. (The full email makes this clear.) And regardless, is it even arguable that someone who headed up an activist organization where it was necessary to advise staff and other followers against cooperating with authorities and “advocating, supporting, condoning or initiating violence”…”from now on”…is probably not someone you want working in the White House?

I think I’m finished with Jones. Hopefully the White House is too.

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