Statement on 2nd November at The Casa

Posted on 16 November 2013 by

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This statement is to clarify events surrounding the “Pack a Scrum of Solidarity” event at The Casa, Liverpool, held on 2nd November to raise funds for the family of Chelsea Manning.

AWOL is amongst the many and varied organisations that have been falsely credited with organising this action.  We were not involved as an organisation, though some of our regular attendees were aware of the planned fundraiser and the controversy surrounding its organisers.  We are making this statement because we were in a position to speak to some of the individuals who decided to take action, and we felt that somebody unconnected to the event organisers needed to clarify what took place and the reasons for it.

We have compiled this information because accounts of these events on Indymedia have been edited with a clear bias towards the organisers, members of whom are on the Indymedia editorial collective.  Consequently, comments from their detractors have been deleted, while biased and misleading accounts, including individuals’ names, pictures and personal details, have been maintained and circulated.

The background

The “Pack a Scrum of Solidarity” event was organised by Ciaron O’Reilly as a fundraiser for Chelsea Manning’s family in Wales, to fund their travel to visit her.  This came to the attention of a small, independent group of feminist activists through flyers posted around Liverpool.

While nobody in this group objected to the existence of the event, and all supported Chelsea Manning, there were objections to Ciaron O’Reilly organising such an event due largely to his reported history of transphobia, misogyny and uncritical support for Julian Assange that many felt amounted to rape apologism (he is quoted as saying “there is no rape without a charge, it did not happen.”)

The actions the group planned were entirely non-violent.  They aimed to picket the event with a flier explaining their support for Chelsea Manning and objections to Ciaron O’Reilly, and to suggest donating directly to the Pvt. Manning Family Fund without attending the event.  A few also planned to attend the event and challenge O’Reilly verbally to acknowledge Chelsea Manning’s status as a woman and to apologise for past misgendering of her and mocking of trans women at the London Anarchist Bookfair.  They also planned to challenge any defence of Julian Assange’s behaviour that took place.  They did not challenge The Casa directly on their hosting of the event prior to the event itself, but some of the Casa staff were at a Liverpool Against the Cuts meeting at which the issues surrounding the event were raised, and so were aware that there was opposition and that O’Reilly was a controversial figure.

Those planning these actions had no idea that Seamus O’Colgan/Colligan would be involved in the event.  He appears to have travelled from London specifically for it after hearing that there would be opposition.  O’Colgan (also known as “Peacefulwarrior”, “Skywarrior” and “hesmackeditbro” but mostly using the twitter account @blacbloc) has a widely-publicised reputation from many sources for violence against women, sexual harassment, threatening violence, informing on activists to the media and police and tweeting names and addresses of activists to their workplaces and to fascist groups[1].  It’s worth noting at this point that to those who had planned this action, this reputation was not hearsay or rumour, as some amongst them were personally acquainted with some of those who have been harmed by O’Colgan’s actions in the past.  While they saw O’Reilly’s presence as inappropriate and problematic, O’Colgan’s was intolerable, and it was this unexpected encounter that changed the nature of the action from a simple challenge of the event organisers into outright opposition.

The event

Once at the venue, the activists decided not to picket due to the fact that they seemed to be the only ones attending the event besides the organisers and the Casa staff.  They sat down in the venue to hear what was being said, and began to have a quiet discussion of the issues with a woman involved in organising the event.  While there was disagreement, at this point there was no aggression.  One of the activists even made a donation in the bucket at the entrance to the room, as the objection was to Ciaron O’Reilly, not to the event or to Chelsea Manning.

One of the activists approached Ciaron O’Reilly, asking to speak to him, and at this point recognised one of the men near the front of the room as Seamus O’Colgan.  O’Reilly asked her to come outside with him for “a chat”, and the other activists currently in the venue followed in order to join more who were smoking outside.  As they walked towards the exit, O’Colgan followed and began hitting one of the women activists on the back of her legs with his walking stick.  She loudly asked him to be careful, in order to draw attention to his behaviour (which she had no doubt was intentional).  O’Colgan then tried to hit another activist with his stick, so a third grabbed the stick from him and hit him back with it.  After this, all the activists were asked to leave and barred from The Casa.  Angry that they were being barred when O’Colgan had attacked them, one threw a glass, which did not hit anybody but smashed on the floor.

At this point, given the poor attendance, the activists considered there to be little point in continuing their demonstration and left the vicinity of The Casa.  They went to another pub for over an hour, and left in separate directions to go home.  A few were left waiting for a bus at a stop around the corner from The Casa.

After they had been waiting for a few minutes, somebody who had been at The Casa – the activists are not sure whether this person was Casa staff or involved in organising the event – approached them at the bus stop with a camera and voice recorder and attempted to intimidate and provoke them.  Having failed to do so, he returned to the venue.  Shortly after this, O’Colgan approached them and began to shout abuse at them.

One of them returned verbal abuse and walked towards O’Colgan, who quickly headed back towards The Casa.  The others followed.  One grabbed O’Colgan’s coat in order to prevent him from going into the venue before finishing the verbal confrontation that he had begun.

At this point, 7 or 8 Casa staff and/or event organisers and/or customers, outnumbering the 3 or 4 activists, dragged O’Colgan inside and physically confronted the activists.  A scuffle followed.  One woman activist narrowly avoided a punch from a man who she believes to be a member of Casa staff.

The activists asked why Casa staff were protecting “a rapist tout”.  One person replied “I don’t care” and others called for them to leave the property, though they had remained outside the gate, on the pavement.

They witnessed O’Colgan watching them from the window.  They checked Twitter to discover that, posting as @blacbloc, O’Colgan had identified an uninvolved male activist (who was not present) as being associated with them, had decided that he was their leader, and was accusing him of “sending” women to attack him.  They called for O’Colgan to come out, but he refused.  The man who had approached them at the bus stop returned and took photos and voice recordings of them, which were later used on Indymedia and on the @blacbloc Twitter.  A woman organiser also began trying to take pictures of the activists’ faces.

Casa staff called the police, and the activists left.

This sequence of events, from the protestors being approached at the bus stop to the police being called, lasted only a few minutes.  While there was a great deal of aggression, both verbal and physical, no blows connected with their targets and nobody was hurt.

The Aftermath

Immediately after the event and throughout the days that followed, O’Colgan tweeted names, photographs and personal details of those who confronted him, as well as those of a number of people who were not involved.  He has called variously for those people to be fired from their jobs, ousted from organisations that he believes they may be members of, arrested by the police and “doxed” by Anonymous.

O’Colgan has a long history of targeting people in this way, and while his calls for Anonymous or the IRA to target his enemies may somewhat exaggerate the level of influence he holds, these tactics can nevertheless do real damage, social, economic, psychological and physical.  People have been made to fear arrest, feared friends and families to be under threat, feared that current or potential employers may see false and prejudicial information about them, even been exposed to the possibility that past abusers may discover their current whereabouts.  This includes people who left the event before any violence took place and even some who were not there and had nothing to do with it.  Some have been targeted merely for criticising those organising the event via social media.  These threats are O’Colgan’s established way of dealing with criticism of all kinds, and all activists should be aware that, regardless of whether they agree with the actions taken last Saturday, O’Colgan is not to be trusted and no information on activists should ever be given to him or to his associates.

So far this statement has been for information, to give a factual account that has been denied space elsewhere and not to justify or condemn anybody’s actions, or give an opinion.  At this point I want to change tone and ask readers to recognise that there is a world of difference between publicly criticising somebody’s actions (as was the intention of those who opposed Ciaron O’Reilly’s involvement in the event last Saturday) and exposing activists online with the aim of destroying their lives.  There is also a difference between this and publicising an abuser’s identity, to warn others of a perpetrator of abuse who is a danger to their community, and who has had opportunities to take responsibility for their actions and refused to do so (as O’Colgan criticises AWOL for doing to Paul Cunliffe).  There is a place in activism for the tactics of doxing and publicising details – for example warning comrades of abusers, police informants or fascist infiltrators – but these tactics are not something to be used lightly in response to any and all opposition, including demonstrations that turn briefly and mildly violent on both sides.

Those who opposed O’Reilly and O’Colgan at the Casa were not abusers, fascists or state agents.  They were feminist and class struggle activists with a point to make, and they have been treated appallingly not only by the event organisers and Casa staff but by other Liverpool activists, who must have identified them by name to a dangerous tout with a history of violence.  I write this not only to give the perspective missing from Indymedia but to make these people aware of their recklessness.  We do not and should never expose other activists and their families to danger for the sake of political differences or petty personal resentments.  We are better than that in Liverpool and we must not let the likes of O’Colgan break our solidarity or intimidate us into communicating with him before each other.

These events have broken trust between a number of organisations and individuals, and we need to build bridges and repair that damage.  If anybody still believes that those who disrupted this event did so with malice towards innocent parties or without good reason, comment on this blog (comments are moderated and can be kept hidden if you wish) or e-mail AWOL (again, in confidence if you ask for it), and if your concerns are genuine and you express them respectfully, we will do our best to address them.

[1] Not linking to these as, obviously, they contain those personal details, and I would also rather not link directly to O’Colgan’s twitter or blog.  These are easy enough to find with Google.

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