Filed under: Action, Anti-fascist, Political Prisoners, Repression, US
Report from One People’s Project about the case of antifascist prisoner, Alex Stokes, who faces 20 years for defending counter-protesters on January 6th in Albany, New York.
On Friday, many in the nation observed the second anniversary of what might have been the biggest threat to democracy since perhaps the Civil War: the Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. It seems fitting that the observance came at a time when some in Congress that are causing some of the drama of selecting a House Speaker from within their own party were among those who were supportive of what happened that day. Perhaps it was their proximity to the gears of power and the possibility of such an Insurrection happening again that prompted President Biden, as he on Friday awarded Presidential Citizens Medal, a major civilian honor, to election workers, Republican state officials and several law enforcement officers who were heralded for their actions as the events of that day unfolded, that Jan. 6 was “a reminder that there’s nothing guaranteed about our democracy,” and that “every generation is required to earn it, defend it, protect it.”
On that day, there were those of this generation that tried to do just that, particularly against those who are part of a neo-fascist organization whose leaders will soon be on trial on federal sedition charges for their alleged role in orchestrating the Insurrection. Sadly, it is coming at a cost for one who did so.
A huge cost.
Alex Stokes is a writer, a poet, an artist and a journalist. He has made a name for himself from the Albany, NY area via his Albany Banana Corps broadcasting on local public access television which has been noted often on mainstream local news such as when he shot the video of an Albany woman who hit her head on a curb while in police custody in 2016. He has been to a few domestic hot spots around the country as well, namely the inauguration of Donald Trump, Charlottesville and a pro-Trump rally in Washington, DC that happened on the same day as a Juggalo march against Juggalos being classified as a gang by the federal government. Juggalos were none too happy with the juxtaposition that day with a rally that included American Guard and Proud Boys, those with ideals Juggalos are decidedly against. And Stokes was there to cover it because he is an antifascist and he wanted to show how antifascists handle things. He rolled with the Juggalos that day. But there is also how he has contributed to the artistic and cultural landscape of his community assisting in refurbishing murals in Riverfront Park in Rensselaer, NY.
His is the kind of work that has got him in close proximity to legendary figures ranging from DJ Grandmaster Flash to writer and professor Cornell West. But it has also made him a target of fascists and police alike. He was one of hundreds arrested during Trump’s inauguration, but he was merely videotaping the day’s events and saw his charges dropped. The fascists went after him for his presence in Charlottesville, marking him in a list of antifascists they compiled after the events of that day where one from their number murdered 34-year-old Heather Heyer when he drove into a crowd of antifascists. And they knew him well enough to refer to him by name at a rally also on Jan. 6, 2021 but 363 miles away from Washington, DC in Albany, NY. This one saw two Proud Boys getting stabbed after they attacked others and Alex getting arrested and charged with the stabbing.
In November, Alex Stokes Contompasis was sentenced to 20 years in prison for that stabbing after being convicted in October during what his supporters saw as a rushed three-day trial. He has received more prison time than many who have to date been convicted and sentenced for their actions that same day at the U.S. Capitol Insurrection, but accounts say his actions were in self defense. To that end, those aforementioned supporters have launched an effort to see that Alex is freed and his charges dismissed.
It was approximately an hour before the insurrectionists at the United States Capitol began their attack. The events unfolded at a so-called “Stop the Steal” rally outside the New York State Capitol in East Capitol Park was timed to coincide with was being held that day in DC. This was a much smaller group of Trump supporters numbering by some accounts only 35 people. Among them were about seven or eight associates of the Proud Boys, according to Douglas Michael Ruso, the leader of the local chapter there. A convicted felon convicted for assault in 2011 after a bar fight, he would later say that he knew Stokes all of his life and even played baseball with him, which was news to Stokes as he hadn’t played baseball since he was six. Ruso came with Proud Boy Dominic Wierzbicki and his brother James P. Warner, who reportedly chooses to use his mother’s maiden name and denied that he was a Proud Boy even though he was wearing their colors and logo that day.
According to Ruso’s own statement given later, the Proud Boys were ignoring those that came out to oppose the rally, but at some point, one of his number began talking and walking towards them. The verbal exchange went on for several minutes and just kept getting louder. Video from the scene shows what happened next: a reputed Proud Boy who was later alleged to have a taser taking a swing at a counter protester. That sparked a brawl with not just Proud Boys but other participant in the rally, including one that attacked a woman with a flagpole. Until this point, Stokes is sitting on the sidelines watching the exchanges go back and forth, but when one of the Proud Boys tased a counter protester, that was when he rushed in to help. He is seen in the video trying to protect counter protesters from the Proud Boys who were kicking one that was on the ground when Stokes pushed them away. When all was said and done Ruso and Warner suffering from stab wounds.
Others participating in the “Stop the Steal” rally were similarly engaged in assaulting persons. 66-year-old Colin Dermody, of Loudonville, NY attacked a woman with a flagpole and although he was arrested he ultimately did not face charges. The Proud Boys also saw no charges even though one of them reportedly employed a Taser, according to witnesses. Two other counter-demonstrators were arrested once police came onto the scene, but both had their charges dismissed eventually.
Stokes too was arrested for his role in the melee and from the start he had tried to point out how his involvement was an act of self-defense. He was eventually released on bail and spent the next year and a half trying to generate support, even though there was reportedly a court-ordered gag-order on the case. Complicating matters was a 2004 charge of third degree attempted assault that he pled guilty to serving probation, but it was a matter that he felt he would have been able to overcome.
When the trial finally began in October Stokes and his family felt the three days it took to get to a conviction was more than a little rushed and when sentencing took place a day before it was announced they were sure something was amiss. “We’re not talking about someone who poses a threat to society on a daily basis,” Stoke’s friend Paul Kane told Cynthia Pooler in her Issues That Matter podcast. “We’re not talking about someone who’s crazy and is gonna stab you if you think something different. We’re not talking about that person. So if that’s not what we’re talking about, how in the world is twenty years fair when we’re talking about this situation?”
But the story does not end here. Plans are underway to appeal and Stokes’ supporters are raising funds for the legal fight. He is being supported by groups like Antifa International, an organization whose mission has been to raise money and other support for antifascist political prisoners around the world. Meanwhile, family and friends created FreeAlexStokes.com to bring more attention to the case.
The Proud Boys as an organization are going through turmoil because of their actions on January 6 not only in Washington, DC, where today the sedition trial for their leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio begins but also in Olympia, Washington where Proud Boy Tusitala “Tiny” Toese is facing felony charges for storming the Governor’s mansion there. The Proud Boys who were in Albany that day however have been allowed to go on with their lives with few media outlets even mentioning their names. Still, they were stopped that day before they caused possible harm to more people. Now the next part of that fight begins: working to free the person who stopped them.