On the 11th Anniversay of the Assassination of Anarchist Activist Brad Will
11 years ago today, I heard that one of my best friends, a true comrade and someone who was my only family, a brother to me, would never come home again. The news that our beloved anarchist activist friend Brad Will had been fatally shot by police, while filming an uprising in Oaxaca, Mexico, eventually reached his family and friends. Around the world, hundreds of people mourned Brad, who had touched many lives in the movements he had participated in and loved. The people of Oaxaca also expressed their appreciation for his solidarity and sacrifice. They paraded down the street with his coffin and picture. To them, he was not just a “gringo” who came as a spectator, but someone who cared about their resistance enough to risk his personal comfort and safety for their community and political struggle.
Brad was a part of many movements including the independent media movement, known once upon a time as the viral “Indymedia” phenomenon, where we sometimes worked together. Brad was documenting a protest and wearing his Indymedia shirt when he was shot. I can’t help but wonder if that T-shirt made him a target. He was not the only media present at the scene of the murder, nor was he the only one shot that day. Many people have died and disappeared in that uprising and in other human rights struggles in Mexico as para-militaries, death squads and other State mechanisms of terror crush dissent and popular resistance, often with U.S weapons supplied to Mexico under the pretext of the “war on drugs.”
Brad was not a martyr. He was murdered. He loved life. He wanted to live. He loved resistance and his fighting spirit could not be repressed, like wind or fire whose warmth lives on.
I met Brad when he was about 200 feet up in an ancient 800 year old tree, in the Pacific Northwest, protecting it from being logged. I was on the ground, so he looked like tiny bird in the branches, one that liked to sing. Those sacred trees are still alive because of him and people who took direct action as he did until his last breath. His last act was not to die, but to document and bear witness to a revolutionary uprising.
The Mexican para-military sniper that fatally shot Brad Will worked for then Governor, Ulysses Ruiz. Of course the Mexican government tried to blame Brad’s assassination on the other activists present at the time and place of his death. The available evidence and witness testimony however contradict the claims of the Mexican authorities. The activists near Brad immediately moved him to safety as quickly as possible, despite incoming gunfire. They did their best to save his life under the haphazard circumstances but Brad died of blood loss from his wounds in the back of a car on the way to the hospital. The wound was too severe, as it was meant to be. It was a classic kill shot, aimed not as warning shot but meant to inflict a fatal wound. That is what snipers do. A sniper can see you but you cannot see the sniper.
Anyone who thinks Brad was taking unnecessary risks and was “thrill seeking” is simply ignorant of the facts. As the footage clearly shows, Brad was embedded with protesters and not alone. There were many other people near him, including some media nearby. We know this because of corroborating footage of this same event and time frame. The fatal bullet that struck Brad came from about 2 blocks away by someone who had the equipment, opportunity and ability to target him. As for the motive, I will not speculate. It does not matter does it? What matters is accountability. This is an OPEN murder investigation.
There is rarely ever accountability when police murder innocent people in Mexico, as is the case in the U.S. Still, we seek justice, and not just for Brad but for all those who resist and become victims of police State terrorism that tries to intimidate and crush dissent. Whoever killed Brad, pissed off a lot of anarchist and will one day regret that.
Brad’s friends have since formed a network and website called friendsofbradwill.org to provide updates on his case and on the human rights issues in Mexico, where brutal terroristic State repression and drug war fueled violence continues to terrorize people.
It seemed like the bullet that went through Brad’s body exited through our own hearts. I was shattered. After that the pieces of my life would never again fit together in the same way. What can one do with a broken life but gather the remaining pieces and shape them into something worthwhile? Faced with a menacing, gaping dark hole in my life, I needed to find a way to keep his light alive. That is why I started the NYC Anarchist Film Festival 11 years ago, in Brad’s honor. Also his footage of the uprising from Oaxaca was all I had left. That footage had to be seen, so I edited it and showed it at the first NYC Anarchist Film Festival in his honor and to honor the resistance in Oaxaca. Those bitter seeds watered by blood, were the roots of the NYC Anarchist Film Festival. It also became a way to create a community forum that allowed us to see examples of resistance movements from around the world and learn courageous and creative ways to resist the oppression and tyranny that we all hated.
After the death of young activist named Rachel Corrie, killed by an Israeli bulldozer in March of 2003, Brad and I interviewed her friends who explained why Rachel had felt so strongly about going to Palestine to protect their human rights. I remember Brad shaking his head sadly after the interview and saying, “only when a beautiful American dies does anyone pay attention to these issues…” and he was right. Yet I could never have expected those words to echo in my head years later while remembering Brad’s death and the struggle of the brave people of Oaxaca, whose plight was suddenly reported in the major U.S media like the New York Times, Rolling Stone, the evening news, etc. but mainly because of Brad’s murder – an American life.
Yet this was one life that was most painful to live without for those that loved him, and called him friend and comrade. A serious activist, Brad was not always serious as he also sang, played music, and made us laugh which made our fears and worries lighter and made our pains more bearable.
There are people whom one loses that will never be replaced in any form but what they leave behind is a legacy that is both deeply personal and political. After Brad’s death, hundreds of people around the country and world expressed their love and sorrow, united in our grief and shock. But we were also united in our love of life – as most of Brad’s friends were activists of one sort or another who really did believe it was possible to fight back against evil and change the world. They say though the revolutionary dies, the revolution lives.
To keep alive this spirit of revolution that lives in each of us, is why every year for 11 years, I have (with the help of usually two or three kind hearted volunteers) organized the NYC Anarchist Film Festival in Honor of Brad Will. Organizing film festival gave me meaning, and something to hold onto instead of drowning in a pool of loss and grief. It made me happy to see that the people who came each year to the film festival seemed to enjoy it and left feeling inspired. The film festival brought to life what we loved, the things that could not be killed.
For a decade now, the annual NYC Anarchist film festival in Honor of Brad showed independent films about direct action in defense of nature and became a forum for human rights struggles against police brutality, torture, State terrorism, and all forms of injustice in our world.
I started this film festival in 2007, less than a year after Brad was killed, the same year I helped co-found the NYC Anarchist Book Fair with a handful of people. An anarchist book fair seemed like good idea and after Brad’s death, a film festival in his honor – and in conjunction with the book fair also seemed like a good idea. For 10 years I organized the film festival in honor of Brad along with a panel or two for our book fair. Usually it was an anarcha-feminist panel.
Well, this year, the book fair had some horrific problems. Hard to boil it down to a few soundbites, but it can be compared to a car wreck or disaster, like when something derails and goes way off track.
Until 2016, I had faithfully organized the NYC Anarchist Film Festival in honor of Brad Will, as a community service and a memorial of sorts, but it was always an exciting opportunity to come together and connect with what mattered and made us feel alive and united and inspired. It had never been easy to do without any money and mostly on my own. It was always a struggle but I did it to keep love alive and maybe that helped me stay alive all those years. This year however, I was not able to do the film festival. I was too demoralized.
It wasn’t just Trump and the rise of fascism. (That was all the more reason to do the film festival, and there was amazing footage of resistance to Trump’s inauguration… the J20 resistors still face serious jail time for protesting Trump, and they need our support.) I really wanted to do the film festival for that reason and create an anti-fascist forum… and I still do. But this year, I didn’t do it because I was targeted, harassed, bullied out of the book fair group which was hijacked by 2-3 people who can be described as authoritarians sympathetic to white supremacists. Whatever they are, they are not anarchists as they have nothing but contempt for anarchist process, values, principles, ideas and shun transparency, community oversight, accountability etc. and are only interested in power and control. That is a story unto itself I will have to tell another time. The book fair group (which cannot be called a collective as they shun consent and consensus and embrace hierarchy…) tried to steal the NYC Anarchist Film Festival in honor of Brad Will from me and only relented after some of his friends helped me to get it back from them. What kind of people try to steal an anarchist film festival from someone who created it to honor their murdered friend?
There is no happy ending to this story. It is a story of a tragedy compounded by more inhumanity.
I would like to dedicate this article to the memory and undying beautiful spirit of Brad Will and to the brave people of Oaxaca and Gaza and Syria, the YPG and everyone around the world, who has never given up the struggle for dignity - despite the State terror they frequently face. It is this example of determination and strength in overwhelming and brutal circumstances, that keeps me from giving up. Brad’s advice for activists who want to succeed is “go for the jugular….”
Never give up comrades.