SPM's Professor Calamity Arrested

We have been shocked and appalled (and not to mention saddened) to hear that long-time Steampunk Magazine conspirator, author and all-round inspiration Professor Calamity has been arrested as a result of the G-20 protests in Pittsburgh about a week ago. He is facing two felonies for allegedly running a Twitter account — accused of running a feed of police movements during protests. The police are increasingly finding themselves in hot-water over the protests, and are already being sued for the heavy-handed tactics they used to break up a number of previously-peaceful protests.

Professor Calamity’s house was raided and turned upside-down over a sixteen hour period with the police confiscating everything, including tools, computers, a chemistry set, and even copies of Steampunk Magazine. Already, lawyers have convinced judges to put a stop to this blatant violation of Calamity’s life and privacy, as well as the lives and privacy of the people who live with him.

He has done nothing wrong in this, nothing but dare to oppose the agendas of the world governments. As a result, he is in danger of becoming steampunk’s first political prisoner and we need to make sure that doesn’t happen. Below is a report from someone who was at the Catastrophone Orchestra house in NYC at the time of the raid, please get in touch with them to see what you can do to help (tortugadefense@gmail.com) and circulate this report on your blogs and websites.

Calamity is one of us, and the things the police have taken from him are the things that we all have in our sheds, in our cellars and in our workshops. It is time we steampunks proved that we are a community, and that we will not stand to have one of our own persecuted for it.

On October 1st, 2009, at 6:00am, the Joint Terrorism Task Force (a union of local police departments and the FBI), kicked out the front door to our home—an anarchist collective house in Queens, NY, affectionately known as Tortuga. The first crashes of the battering ram were quickly followed by more upstairs, as the police broke in on 3 sleeping people, destroying bedroom doors that were unlocked.

Three more people, awoken by the most unpleasant means of bounding footsteps, splintering wood, and shouting voices, waited in the basement—their turn at drawn guns and blinding lights came quickly.

We put our hands out where they could see them. They ordered us out of bed. They wouldn’t let us dress, but they did put a random assortment of clothes on some people. We were handcuffed, and although the upstairs and downstairs groups were kept separate initially, we were soon all together, sitting in the living room, positioned like dolls on the couches and chairs. We were in handcuffs for several hours, and we were helpless as our little bird, a Finch we had rescued and were rehabilitating, flew out the open door to certain death, after his cage had been battered by the cops in their zeal to open the upstairs bedroom doors by force. We shouted at them, but they stood there and watched.

And they stood and watched us for hours and hours and hours. 16 hours to be precise, 16 hours of the NYPD and FBI traipsing through our house, confiscating our lives in a fishing expedition related to the G20 protests of September 24th and 25th. The search warrant, when we were finally allowed to read it, mentioned violation of federal rioting laws and was vague enough to allow the entire house to be searched. They kept repeating that we were not arrested, that we were free to go. But being free meant being watched by the FBI, monitored while using the bathroom, not allowed to make phone calls for hours or to observe them ransacking our rooms. Being free meant they took two of us away on bullshit summonses, and even though this was our house, where we lived, if we left, we could not re-enter.

Three of us stayed to the bitter end. Three of us stayed to watch the hazmat team come in to investigate a child’s chemistry set, to see them search the garage on an additional warrant, to sign vouchers for all the things they confiscated as “evidence”—Curious George plush toys, artwork, correspondence with political prisoner Daniel McGowan, birth certificates, passports, the entire video archive of a local media collective, tax records, books, computers, storage devices, cell phones, Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs, flags, banners, posters, photographs and more than can be recounted here.

The apparent impetus for this raid came over a week ago, when two members of our household were arrested, once again at gunpoint, in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. They are accused of being devious masterminds, of “directing” the rollicking G-20 protests, of using technology such as Twitter to “hinder apprehension” of protesters. The two were held on bail, one fetching the ridiculous amount of $30,000 cash, and released 36 hours later after the bond was posted. As of this moment, no additional charges have been levied against the two, nor against any other housemates in the aftermath of the raid.

As anarchists, we are under no illusions about what the State is capable of. We are not the first anarchists to have our house raided, and unfortunately as long as the State remains, we will not be the last. We are, along with other targeted individuals like David Japenga, the outlets for the impotent rage the authorities feel when they lose control, as they did during the G-20 in Pittsburgh. We, that beautiful we, that include Tortuga House and all who find affinity with us, refuse the rigid forms the authorities try and cram a world bursting with infinite possibilities into—He is not a leader, she did not act alone, they are not being directed. Repression is a strategy that the state uses to put us on the defensive, to divert our energies from being a proactive force and instead deal with the terms it has set. We will not lie and say this has not left us reeling, but as time and our dizziness pass, we know that friends surround us. Our resolve is strengthened by this solidarity, and we will not be deterred by this state aggression.

We wish to thank all of our friends and comrades who have stood by us in these difficult few days. Our lawyer filed an injunction on the raid the next morning (October 2nd) that was surprisingly granted- it forbids the authorities from fishing through our belongings until we head back to court on the 16th. In the weeks and months to come we will do our best to share developments as they occur. If you want to keep in touch or find out how you can help please email us at: tortugadefense@gmail.com

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18 Responses to “SPM's Professor Calamity Arrested”

  1. Oh please! Sure, this is very sad for the person in question, but “steampunk’s first political prisoner”? Was he arrested for wearing a Neo-Victorian costume or for reading a copy of “The Difference Engine”? No? Then his arrest probably didn’t have much to do with steampunk.

  2. Maybe these sorts of protests don’t have anything to do with steampunk as far as you’re concerned. We happen to hold the opinion that they do. As far as we’re concerned, steampunk is about more than dressing up in neo-Victorian costume and reading the Difference Engine. If you disagree, then you’re probably in the wrong place for it.

  3. That is exactly what I oppose: presuming that steampunk has a political agenda. The only reason that some people think it has, is because “SteamPunk Magazine” enforced it on the genre. You started talking about steampunk being more punk than steam, and that’s your good right, of course, but please realize that before “SteamPunk Magazine” came along, steampunk was entirely devoid of politics.

    Asides from that discussion, I think you’re blowing this incident out of proportion by declaring the man in question “steampunk’s first political prisoner”. He is not a political prisoner (such a thing does not exist in a republic) and he most certainly wasn’t arrested for being a steampunk enthusiast. (That is, as far as I can tell from the information you’ve shared.)

  4. Please stop and think for a moment. We are not ‘enforcing’ anything on anybody any more than people who mod plastic rayguns are enforcing that on us. Shall I tell you what I oppose? People who think that they have the right to define what steampunk is because they know what it means to them. We have never sought to do more than express what it means to us, and I would encourage you to do the same. What’s more, I would encourage you to do it without using the arrest of one of our number as a springboard for accusing us of imposing our politics on you. If you find our politics so offensive, then I suggest that you stop reading our blog, because otherwise you shall most assuredly continue to find offence here.

    Also, I notice that you aren’t so affronted by us that you will not use our forum to promote the Gatehouse Gazette. You are welcome to continue doing so, but please do not do so and then use the arrest of one of our number as a reason come here and tell us that just because steampunk was ‘devoid of politics’ before we came along (and that, my friend, is another argument entirely), we in some way have no right in being here. You will (I have no doubt) continue to champion what steampunk means to you, please afford us the same privilege.

    As far as “blowing this incident out of proportion” goes, someone who has contributed greatly to our cause over the years has been arrested and is facing two felonies for something as simple as updating a Twitter account. This is someone’s life that we are talking about here. Someone’s life that has been turned inside-out, and someone who has had his privacy violated. Please show some respect for that and take your arguments about politics and steampunk to the Gaslamp Bazaar where they belong.

  5. “Enforcing” was rather a bad phrase to use in this context, I apologize for that. I do observe, however, that many people new to or unfamiliar with steampunk think the movement has political ideas and if not for “SteamPunk Magazine”, who is responsible for this?

    As I mentioned though, you have the good right to express and publish your ideas (and most certainly a “right to be here”!) but I hope you understand that for someone who very much liked steampunk before “SteamPunk Magazine” came along, it can be a bit uncomfortable to see that what was originally a literary genre has become an entire movement today, with, yes, political ideas. I’m not so sure whether that is a good development and while I obviously respect your right to forward your political agenda, I would ask that every now and then, you remember that there’s plenty of steampunk enthusiasts out there who do not share that agenda.

    I’m happy to discuss that though this is not quite the place for it, I agree. Let me conclude by saying then that I sympathize with your outrage at a friend of yours being arrested, regardless of the circumstances. Although I believe that the language in which you do so is rather too strong, I would probably be pretty upset too if a friend of mine were arrested.

  6. I am intruiged, both as a steampunk and as an academic of politics.

    Steampunk can be expressed politically, and there are those who express their politics through the medium of steampunk, but the information you have provided here clearly and repeatedly states that the people raided and arrested were anarchists, and were arrested as anarchists, and thus were not acting in their (his?) capacity as steampunks. Whilst there may be steampunk anarchists, the people here are not identified as such. Indeed, from the list of items stolen, they could be identified as goths, or indeed vampire enthusiasts. There are many layers of identity, and, naturally, given the knowledge you have of the protagonist, your shared interests, and the alignment of this blog, you have chosen to portray this story through the lens of steampunk. Nothing wrong with that, but some recognition of this may go a long way to addressing any perceived bias.

    I also note that the only information available is from the protagonist arrested, meaning an objective perspective is impossible at this juncture.

  7. A quick Google turns up a lot of hits. This one seems like the most useful:
    A lot of the others use exactly the same words, which seems to suggest they’re reproducing the official account. The article above has some discussion about the legality of the actions of the good Professor.

    For my money, being an anarchist is part of being a punk and part of being a Steampunk. It’s not all of it and it’s not a view you’re obliged to hold to be part of the community. But when members of the community who hold that view are prosecuted because of it, it concerns the whole community. Just like if a Steampunk artist was having his work plagiarised or a Steampunk contraptor was having his designs reproduced by a commercial organisation and sold in Wal*Mart. Part of being a community is supporting each other when things go bad, whether they’re involved in your part of the community or not.

  8. […] UPDATE 02:: As Russ notes in the comments below, BuzzNews fills in some blanks and from there we get a first hand report from Birds Before the Storm via Steampunk Magazine. […]

  9. I hardly find it to be a tenable conclusion that steampunk is not political.
    Now, I’m not here to argue what “Steampunk politics” are, because I also hardly find it tenable to conclude that “Steampunk politics” are uniform.

    Being men and women of Science!, Adventure!, and other capitalized verbs with exclamation points, I hardly see how any of us could NOT hold strong political views.
    Similarly, something brought us all here, to the neo-post-victorian. If you claim it was merely the ‘cool duds’, then I’d suggest that you have a lot of reading to do, but even that base-line aesthetic attraction speaks to something.
    We, as steampunks, are drawn, definitionally, to looking back at the way things were and envisioning a way they could have become. That, my good gentlemen and women, is political.
    Every motivation we have in our day to day lives is political. Every time we look at the world around us and want to elicit change in it (even if it’s so simple as the way that we dress) is political. And the changes that we desire show the form of our politics whether we like it or not.

    To claim that steampunk isn’t political is to deny any true knowledge of the period and of our inspirations. Babbage, Lovelace, Byron, Shelly, Verne, Wells, Gibson/Sterling; to claim that these inspirational artists were devoid of politics until the fine gentlemen of SPM inserted them is starkly absurd.

    While I do not claim that “anarchy” and “steampunk” are the same by any means, I do claim that steampunks are political people. If the politics of this steampunk was anarchy, we, as his brethren, should discuss our agreement and disagreement with his doctrines in a public forum. However, when he is being denied a forum for peaceable discussion of his views, or politically punished for his thoughts, then yes, we as political steampunks ought to care about his plight. Whether we agree with his politics or not, we are cut from the same cloth, and the copper club that falls on him today could be swinging for any of us the next.

    We are radically political people, whether we realize it or not, and when heavy handed draconian techniques like these spring up, effecting our own community especially, it is our duty as Gentlemen-Philosophers to do something.

    As a resident of Pittsburgh, I’ve seen much more of this first hand than I imagine anyone else who wasn’t there personally. Peaceful protesters who had done their paperwork, payed their fines, and gone through all of the bureaucratic legal red tape required setting foot on the street to be strangled by cops. To watch as the men and women of the law grab one of them by the arm, pull them within a circle of armed men and beaten while being dared to do anything about it.

    We’re not talking strictly about anarchs here, nor just about Prof. Calamity. When the state reaches down and brutalizes its citizens for thinking differently than they do, and when we are a gathered forum of gentlemen-and-women who think differently than the state (Noted by our chosen subculture), it is folly to turn a blind eye and act as if these events do not concern us.

  10. Hmm. Much information, perhaps breach of his human rights (although with the Patriot Act, it may be argued – not by me! – not), detainment, searches, and confiscation of property, to do with Elliot’s anarchist activites. I am sorry and angry that this has happened, though.

    I could see how, to a law enforcement officer, “gas masks, computers, corked glass vials, beakers and test tubes” could be seen as possible terrorist paraphernalia – indeed, I would be suprised if they were not. The fact that we understand them as steampunk kit is neither here nor there, the acts of the police and of the main protagonist here is premised upon his anarchist beliefs and activities.

    Personally, I am leaning towards his side in what has happened, and would support his arguments for free speech, but I have yet to see a mention of steampunk anywhere in any of the reports, other than here. I can see how many steampunks of other political persuasions would be upset at the use of the genre in which they engage in this manner.

  11. “Was he arrested for wearing a Neo-Victorian costume or for reading a copy of “The Difference Engine”? No? Then his arrest probably didn’t have much to do with steampunk.” –

    This comment would be lame enough, though perhaps not unexpected, if it was made on a non SP site merely regurgitating the news. However, that the founder and webmaster of The Gatehouse would make such a comment makes me very, very sad indeed.

    Anyone can see that the arrest is a waste of time, resources, is unlawful, unethical and just plain wrong.

    I certainly don’t believe that adding any kind of “this has nothing to do with dressing-up so it’s not really steampunk” disclaimer is necessary. The Prof. is a contributor to the magazine and is identified both by himself and those around him as a SP. What he was wearing really has no bearing on anything whatsoever.

  12. Let me elaborate by adding that I agree that his arrest is extremely regrettable and probably quite preposterous if he was indeed arrested for only twittering.

    What I contest however is that his arrest had much to do with him being a steampunk enthusiast. He is a much respected member of the steampunk community and an esteemed contributor to this magazine, that is beyond a doubt, as far as I’m concerned, but he was not arrested for these facts. Let me say this as plainly as possible: his arrest had nothing to do with steampunk.

    At least, not with how I see “steampunk” and I suppose that that might be up for debate, but this is not the place for that discussion.

  13. He’s steampunk’s first political prisoner because it’s pretty clear that some of the material seized in the raid that was then used to imply in the press that Professor Calamity was dangerous were steampunky stuff.

    The chemisty set, some chemicals, some goggles, some “writing” (such as copies of SteamPunk magazine) were seized basically because the cops infer this proves the guy is an anarchist and thus, a dangerous man who was participating in the G20 protests.

    It’s not that hard to figure this out. The fact that he’s into steampunk is being bizarrely used against him–although I’m sure the authorities haven’t the slightest clue wtf steampunk is.

  14. Of course SP is political. Mr Ottens statement that it isn’t, is itself a political statement! I’ve been into DIY steam and stuff for over 30 years and DIY is *always* a political issue. Why? Because anything like SP that contradicts the dominant mindless consumerist capitalist culture is intrinsically somewhat anarchist. This latest lame attempt by the NWO nasties just continues their long tradition of destroying democracy. The CIA scum monitoring this site will never take away our souls 🙂

  15. After reading this article and the after comments, I feel like a little bit of me has just died.

    All that brass is now a little more tarnished. 🙁

  16. […] SteamPunk Magazine » SPM’s Professor Calamity Arrested […]

  17. *sigh*
    and police wonder why so many people are passive-aggressive towards them…..

  18. After reading the above, I see that someone has to be an anarchist/political activist(which would be opposites) to be a punk or SP. I’ve been on the punk scene for over 20 years. I’ve never organized a protest(which would be a hippy kinda thing) so I must not be punk. It seems that if I went out and robbed someone that I could claim that I was arrested because I have a mohawk. I don’t like authority any more than the next person and I think it is wrong what happened too. But it is a joke the way this magazine is handling this discussion. I know this will be bad mouthed by the magazine in the next comment, since they don’t advocate freedom of speech. If my views are different from theirs then I am wrong. Reminds me of the state authorities. Time to delete this bookmark.

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