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Friday, August 24, 2012

Militant Feminism: An Explosive Interview with a KKKanadian Urban Guerilla (2010)

Juliet Belmas was arrested in January 1983, at the age of 19, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison for her involvement in the militant Guerrilla groups Direct Action (DA), and The Wimmin’s Fire Brigade. DA claimed responsibility for the bombings of the Cherokee Dunsmire Hydro substation on Vancouver Island, and the bombing of Litton Systems, an Ontario company that was building guidance systems for the nuclear cruise missile; other smaller actions included paint bombing of AMEX offices, and they had plans to sink an icebreaker being used to push forth plans for offshore drilling, as well as bombing the military base at Cold Lake.

The Wimmins Fire Brigade fire bombed three stores of the pornography chain Red Hot Video (RVH), after a failing long term campaign by mainstream feminist groups to stop the chain from selling films of womyn and children being violently and repeatedly beaten and raped.
Juliet now has a degree from art school and makes independent films, and does work around the issues faced by womyn in prison. I was lucky enough to meet Juliet and hear many of her exciting stories recently—she had so much to say that needed to be heard by others. I took this opportunity to ask her about the connections between anarchism, feminism, punk rock and militancy.

Comrade Black: So now that you are not blowing shit up anymore, what are you doing? Are you still a revolutionary?

Juliet Belmas: I film shit blowing up all the time now, as a camera technician in the film industry, and over the past few years I’ve been talking­—mainly with young people eager to know what it’s like being a revolutionary, about how it all began for me and what it was like. I tell them time, don’t wait for nobody, it goes just like that, so listen up!

As for being a revolutionary—a parrhesiast is what I am. I don’t suck-hole to anybody! I tell the truth, despite the risks, and my fidelity to truth is pivotal to my self-examination and maturation as a human being. I choose frankness instead of persuasion, truth instead of falsehood, the risk of death instead of life and security, criticism instead of flattery, and moral duty instead of self-interest or moral apathy.

CB: During the trials, a prisoner support group put out some bulletin claiming you had “ratted” out the others. Was there any validity to this? How did that rumor start? How did it affect your time in prison and relationship to your co-defendants?

JB: It all began with an article carried by the “Leftist Press,” entitled “Julie Rats Out,” dating back to the mid 1980s. It’s not surprising that the article was not signed. Writers with journalistic integrity always sign their articles (except in some countries like Mexico, Colombia or Algeria where their lives could be threatened by what they write!). But I can see why the person who wrote that article didn’t sign it; it is full of lies and partiality. They depicted Brent Taylor like some demi-god and steered the reader into concluding that Julie was the Judas who betrayed the group for self-interest; while the others, the true believers, must now suffer a worse fate. They take the fact that I pled guilty and appealed a 20-year sentence and make it seem that, because I did that, I automatically “ratted out”—damn! If you only knew how the whole place was wiretapped and what people said, like the cops would learn anything from me or anybody else for that matter. Weird, seems like whoever wrote that article had to find a scapegoat to elevate the others—I don’t know, but what I do know is that I was lucky I wasn’t the lone woman in the group, otherwise the optics would be so much worse. History is so unforgiving!

Also, I can’t believe they wrote an entire article about Julie Belmas without even talking to Julie Belmas, or her lawyer. Who were their sources? Never once mentioned in the article! It even slid into low-level gossiping, insinuating I was a rat because of a “slide into religion” or because I “left Gerry.” Not a single word about the fact that he let the others threaten the life of the women he said he loved, which was unbelievable!

I believe the reason why the “Leftist Press” singled me out, and labeled me a rat says more about the dogma-laden Left. I didn’t know anybody. I came right out of the suburbs with revolutionary zeal like no other. I never took the state’s evidence, blamed or “ratted” on any one of my ex-comrades. I was a pawn and couldn’t make a move; I watched helplessly as reporters from both the mainstream and the Left began pitting me against the others to sell their stories. Media sucks, and the truth is that the huge sentence I got is proof that I never hid behind anyone’s skirt and I even tried to protect some people. I got a heavier sentence because of that, but it was much harder with that “rat” label, especially in prison; so you can see why I’m not on the best terms with the four others and even some of their most ardent supporters. They had a responsibility, especially my boyfriend (at the time), to remove that “bad jacket” and they never did. They would’ve had to admit they were wrong and obviously they weren’t capable of that. They chose to be rigid politically, instead of being human.

CB: What does Militancy and Direct Action mean to you?

JB: Militancy means a constant preparedness for the point of no return. Direct action means big tent action by committee.

 CB: Is property destruction and sabotage violent? How do you define violence?

JB: Property damage and sabotage are violence if aimed at the epicenter of an intended target; I define violence as a natural part of being H-U-M-A-N.
It’s obvious; politics is violence: politics needs force, politics needs Christ, politics needs money, politics needs ignorance, politics needs fools, politics needs poverty—you get the progression—politics is violence.

CB: What was the goal of using militant direct action? Why did you choose militancy over other tactics? And how did you choose your targets?

JB: The goal was not to anger people but to scare them, to wake them up. Picketing seemed like a waste of time; nothing ever changes. I targeted Red Hot Video because it was doing business near my family home in Port Coquitlam, and I was very disturbed by it. All I wanted to do was destroy it—smash it up and burn it down! Actually, I wanted to blow it to smithereens with the dynamite we stole, but the others wouldn’t go along with that. Red Hot Video was the only action I chose and the only action I never regretted—not one bit!

CB: Many people in the mainstream and those who work for the state, such as the pigs, often call you a terrorist. Do you feel what you have done was terrorism? How do you feel about being called a terrorist? What does that word mean to you?

JB: When people label me a terrorist it hits two birds with one stone; first, I get to claw back the representational dynamics of a word that continues to misinform our understanding of history throughout the ages; secondly, it makes me feel special. For instance, when I tell stories highlighting my exploits, people always say to me: “Really? Why were you in prison?” and I always take the opportunity to explain it was for political extremism; if I use the word terrorism, they are always surprised and say, “Ah yeah? And she overcame this?” and somehow I see in their eyes that what I had just said to them kinda gave them hope. I read it in their faces something like: “If a person can have a good life after serving six and a half years in prison for worst acts than those I have done, I sure can have a good life too.” You can do something, and you can make a difference by making the best of it. That’s the way people think, and if you have an influence on one person’s perceptions then you’re doing all right.

CB: Mistakes were made at Litton Systems causing serious injuries to some of the security and staff, could these have been avoided?

JB: Days before the Litton bombing, a problem was discovered with the bomb’s digital timer, it wasn’t cycling down to zero properly. We should’ve aborted the action right there and then, but we didn’t. Instead, a decision was made to contact the individual who built the timer back in Vancouver before proceeding. It was all beyond me, to tell you the truth, why we continued.

But moreover, to this day I believe it was a miracle no one was killed, we should never have attacked a civilian target (a place where people worked) with 550 pounds of dynamite; it was wacko crazy.

The way we transported and stored the dynamite and the blasting caps was just as irresponsible; there was little consideration for the public’s safety, not to mention mine. The others had previous experience handling dynamite, whereas, I did not. It  had been a common misconception that I did the Cheekeye Dunsmuuir bombing. I never did. Anyways, I was asked to do the telephone bomb warning for the Litton action, because the person originally involved crapped out. As it turned out, the dynamite contaminated my clothing (which was bagged and used as evidence in court), it entered my bloodstream, and it made me real sick.
Get one thing straight, I’m not making excuses or looking for sympathy at this point in the journey; it took me a long time to be able to look back at events with clarity (due to post traumatic stress). But given the facts, it’s clear I suffered nitrate poisoning during the days leading up to the bombing. Nitrate poisoning usually occurs when people are in close contact with dynamite for two or three days. I slept beside it for two full weeks (while the blasting caps were with Ann and Brent); I complained of particles flying in my face while packing it from place to place. Mistakes definitely could’ve been avoided!

CB: So often, when you talk about militancy, it is often perceived as macho, or sexist, and many feminists have even argued that “violence” is an inherently male trait. However, you, a strong feminist, were involved in a militant group. Does this disprove the theory held by some feminists?

JB: I believe violence is a human trait that has nothing to do with gender.
I think most feminist theories fail to explore the way most girls’ actively construct their own gender, and they make big mistakes in focusing on socialization, rather than on girl resistance to socialization. And  the big problem with academia is so much gets lost in translation.

CB: So what then is the connection between Militancy and Feminism?

JB: The connection between Militancy and Feminism for me was girl resistance and DIY gun empowerment. In other words, guerrilla irreverence for patriarchal institutions and power.

For my seventeenth birthday, my oldest sister gives me a book called “The Women’s Room” by Marilyn French. It was a feminist novel that featured a radical militant feminist as central character and for me, it ignited new perspectives on female passivity and male domination. When a friend got me a job at a door factory punching holes in aluminum eight hours a day, five days a week, I remember trying to talk to her about the book’s ideas during coffee breaks and lunch hours. She was too busy suck-holing and trying to impress floor boss—she was a hard working asshole like him.

Luckily, I was listening to female rock icons at the time like Patty Smith, Polystyrene of the X-Ray Spex, and guitarists like Ellen McIlwaine, who were taking on male traits in their music, and I was attracted to that new rhythm generating. Soon after, I told the floor boss to shove it (under my breathe), and made a b-line directly for the Vancouver punk scene in bondage trousers, combat boots and a ripped shirt. I was not trying to be sexual or indecent, but mocking female sexuality (social norms) through parody. My entry into punk rock moved me from a position of victimization, as an assembly line worker from the suburbs, to one of agency, as a person in control of my self-presentation.

Militant parody in the form of punk rock was girl resistance to subservient, fucked up roles for young women. I was more afraid of doing nothing to combat that, than being patted on the head and falling into line as a “good girl.”

CB: How does anarchism work into all this? What is the connection between anarchism, and feminism, or anarchism and militancy?

JB: Well after that job in the Port Coquitlam piss factory, I didn’t much care for work place rules and regulations anymore—or any rules for that matter. I sensed that I would remain subjugated for the rest of my life if I remained complacent and let fucked up people tell me what to do, and on and on it would go. I wanted to seize the time and express my femininity in a way that smashed other people’s ideas of how I should behave.

I grew up with a lot of freedom, being the youngest of six. My siblings grew up in the over-controlling 50s, while I was all freedom-loving 60s and wanting to be a “hippie” right off the bat. My parents had seen it all and tolerated me expressing myself through any imagery I desired, not to mention the uncompromising four-four beat of British punk rock.

So I started fashioning my own punk rock, anarcho-feminism style: ripped fishnet stockings, safety pins, skin-tight black leather, spiked hair and wristbands. I drew anarchy symbols on everything I wore. I even wore a Mickey Mouse cap around the house with Nazi symbols for ears that made my Mother laugh. I found refuge in the music of the Sex Pistols and other British bands whose records I was collecting at the time, because just expressing any deviation from the norm in the suburbs (where I grew up) drew staunch repression. I would soon learn the same to be true, and even worse in downtown Vancouver. Punk was really out there back then, not like it is now.

So then, while I was staying at a punk house off Commercial Drive, I got violently attacked in broad daylight by baseball bat-wielding fascists. After that, something in me changed drastically. At first I returned to Port Coquitlam and dropped out of the scene for a while, suffering post-traumatic stress in quiet desperation. Then I started reading newspapers (having never been interested in news), and identifying with media accounts of paramilitary death squads operating with impunity in the Third World, trapping and massacring women and children in churches! The realization that it almost happened to me here hit me like a ton of bricks.

I started my own DIY punkzine, called Opposition (I criticized punks for doing nothing but sitting on their asses), I joined a punk band called No Exit and penned “Nothing New,” one of the best punk anthems that came out of the Vancouver punk scene.  At the same time, I was making anti-war and anti-fascist posters using clippings of images of guerrilla fighters from Time magazine. It was a big time of connectivity, channeling my anger into creative energy, and that’s what lead up to my slide into militancy.

CB: Some people today feel that feminism “has gone too far,” that womyn are now equal to men, and that there is no need for feminism anymore. How do you feel about this, do you see a need for feminism today?

JB: Level playing field, hah! I see a dire need for feminists (both male and female) to unite around truth-telling and self-empowerment, whichever way they choose.

CB: What do you say to all those people that think feminists hate men?

JB: I say, the 80s called and wants its dogma back.

CB: Second wave feminism was very anti-porn, where as third wave feminism adopted a pro-sex stance. Was the fire bombing of the Red Hot Videos was this based on a anti-porn stance? Would an action like this have been a product of the feminism of the time, or would it have still happened if the entire situation occurred 10 years later when Little Sister’s was fighting against censorship, if a store like RHV was selling rape and snuff films in the height of the pro-sex feminist movement?

JB: We were all radical militant second wavers who believed that video porn should be prohibited (censored) because it was dangerously desensitizing to the viewer and correlated with increased levels of violence against women and children. Also, mainstream feminist groups did such a good job picketing the shops and setting up the issue of snuff pornography in the collective consciousness that direct action was able to spring board into public discourse.
I don’t think it would have the same galvanizing effect today, because Third Wave feminists express themselves differently. They are reclaiming their personal journeys out of the ashes of censorship and re-constructing female identity through empowering labels previously defined and censored as “unfeminine” such as prostitution and pornography. Today, feminist third-wavers are choosing to control their means of production rather than smash them. It’s so cool, because the forty, fifty year olds like me did our thing, now the twenty, thirty year olds are interested in doing their thing, and on and on it goes.

 CB: Why did you choose the spelling you used of Wimmin?

JB: The Brigade as a collective chose “wimmin” as the spelling, because some comrades thought that by using the term we’d build solidarity in other areas of the movement (outside Canada). In other words, we chose the word thinking it would make our Direct Action message more accessible. Today, our target audience wonders “what’s up with that word?”

CB: How did your actions affect the overall movement? Did you have any support from the mainstream anti-war and feminist moments?

JB: Our actions caused sorrow, tears, confusion and the regular trademarks of repression. At the time, we did not have widespread support, but the individual people who knew us within those movements supported us passionately, and still do. Conversely, I barely knew anyone in the movement when I was arrested and as a result, I did not get the same sort of support as the others.

CB: What about race? As mainly white, heterosexual, activists, and largely from middle class backgrounds did your privilege play into any of this? How did this work in solidarity with People of Color, especially indigenous people who’s land we are fighting on?

JB: I had a hunch that there was more to life than my white bread dysfunctional culture when I started hanging out at the Smiling Buddha and other punk venues in the inner city. I was from the suburbs, right away my family and friends started making a case for violence and homelessness saying that it wasn’t safe for me to be downtown. They pointed to local newspaper stories that linked indiscriminate violence with homelessness and Native people in the area. I remember arguing with them and challenging them to read between the lines of stupid media messages I was hearing, like the way women were supposed to dress and be subservient to men. I knew I was privileged and that it was my responsibility to rebel by seeking truth—the uncompromising truth of injustice, poverty and violence—everything that I was supposed to be swallowing in the media, that is how my white, privileged background played into all this.

How this worked in solidarity with First Nations was awesome! One time, we (me and my DA comrades) were heading to the Stein River Valley for a week of R&R and we had to pass through First Nations territory to get there. There we were moving slow in the stolen four wheel drive—our eyes were on the winding road ahead—when suddenly about twenty First Nations youth appeared out of thin air and blocked the road in front of us with logs and trees so we could not pass. We realized that this was a campaign of non-white direct actions aimed at an aggressive logging company in the area that had marked the last natural watershed for clear cut logging, so we raised our fists in solidarity; we made a peace offering with a cassette tape of John Trudell talking about his life experiences. By respecting Native road blocks, whites can work in solidarity with People of Color to protect the earth. That’s how solidarity works!

This interview was conducted by Comrade Black, who is a genderqueer green anarchist feminist from Victoria BC. They are a founder of the Victoria Anarchist Bookfair collective, Victoria anarchist reading circle, as well as a member of the Camas Collective Infoshop. This is only half of the interview; the other half will appear in the next issue (Beltane May-June) of the Journal. 

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