Introduction: The RNC 2000 came at a time when intensified political dissension in the U.S. was used to justify an expansion of counterintelligence programs, which took hold long before 9/11. The Introduction situates these events within an historical and contemporary context. In addition to representing a turning point in policing strategies realized through the scheming of notorious police chief John Timoney, these events also signaled the advent of a solidarity, collective strength, and radical legal support framework that continues to hold important lessons for U.S. dissidents and the mainstream public alike.

SNEAK PEEK: Read the full Introduction below!


Chapter 1: Preparation and Protest. The period in advance of the RNC 2000 protests was dominated by law enforcement’s overt efforts to suppress dissent. Hoping to avoid the embarrassment of another “Seattle,” this chapter shows how the Philadelphia power structure, with the help of the federal government, worked to thwart political organizing. It also details the rallies, marches, and other political actions that took place in an effort to challenge the Republicans, presidential candidate George W. Bush, and U.S. policies more generally.

Chapter 2: August 1st. This chapter details the events of August 1st, which took place in response to the call for direct action against the criminal justice system. Recounting events surrounding the first shadow convention (which addressed the rampant incarceration of the “Drug War”), the anti-death penalty rally which drew thousands of people to Center City, as well as other marches and actions, the chapter focuses on the mass civil disobedience that created hours of gridlock in the downtown area and resulted in more than 400 arrests.

Chapter 3: The Great Puppet Caper. This chapter explains how the invasive tactic of infiltration was used to spy on activists, preemptively raid a Philadelphia puppet-making warehouse, and arrest dozens of people inside. It also lays out how the city used unsubstantiated Red Scare claims to obtain a search warrant and subsequently destroyed all the evidence—much of which was personal property—to avoid culpability.

Chapter 4: Jail Solidarity. Once in jail, activists used solidarity tactics to obstruct the detention process and protect fellow comrades singled out for harsher treatment. This chapter describes how the use of such tactics yielded mixed results but didn’t break the collective strength of the arrestees. It also recounts how, during the two-week detention period, arrestees were brutalized and denied medication and access to attorneys, endured unprecedented bails, engaged in hunger strikes, and won the support of people across the country.

Section II: In the Courts

Chapter 5: R2K Legal. This chapter details how an ad-hoc group of activists formed to staff a 24-hour legal office, coordinate Legal Observers, and track the status of arrestees became a formidable defendant-led collective and the backbone of the legal support effort. Readers will see firsthand how the R2K Legal Collective successfully exposed abuse inside the jails, raised unprecedented legal funds, provided direct support to hundreds of criminal cases, and—with its “drop the charges” campaign—garnered widespread public support.

Chapter 6: Court Solidarity. With everyone released from jail, RNC defendants planned for court solidarity, a set of tactics used to continue the effort of achieving minimal, equitable penalties for those arrested. This chapter explains how they came together to refuse plea bargains and demand their right to trial in order to burden the court and show support for those with felonies and serious misdemeanor charges. It also points to the complexity of organizing defendants across the country, training attorneys on how to work with activists, and creating materials to help defendants grapple with the legal process.

Chapter 7: Political Trials and Legal Victories. Emboldened by numerous pre-trial dismissals, this chapter illustrates how RNC defendants made political theater out of their misdemeanor trials. It also reveals how the strength of court solidarity undermined the criminal prosecutions, vindicating the activists and placing increased pressure on the city for its unreasonable stance.

Chapter 8: Judge McCaffery. Exemplifying the way that defendants turned the legal system on itself, this chapter profiles Judge Seamus McCaffery and how activists exploited his bias as a former cop with allegiances to the Fraternal Order of Police. In particular, it shows how two pro se defendants, backed by a notable witness, accused the judge of a plan to preventively detain protesters and argued for his disqualification. Failing to achieve their short-term objective, the spotlight on McCaffery still resulted in the acquittal of dozens of cases.

Chapter 9: Felony Trials and Long Haul Victories. By January 2001, the vast majority of RNC-related cases had been resolved in favor of the protesters, though several of the most serious felony cases still remained. This chapter highlights some of the more politicized trials, including that of AIDS activist and accused protest “ringleader” Kate Sorensen and an elementary school teacher who was originally charged with attempted murder. It also recounts the ordeals of the Timoney 3 and the 4-year long case in which activists were accused of attacking police, including the commissioner.

Chapter 10: Civil Lawsuits. This chapter focuses on the civil courts where several individuals and groups filed lawsuits. These included seven medics, the owners of the raided warehouse, accused protest “ringleaders,” and more than two-dozen people arrested inside the Puppet Warehouse. By following these cases, the chapter reveals how the RNC host committee secretively purchased an insurance policy that covered the city for rights violations, and how the city used it to hire a private law firm to attack dissidents and their legal counsel.

Section III: Legacies and Lessons

Chapter 11: Legacy of August 1st. This chapter provides an analysis of the political policing apparatus ushered in by John Timoney and the legacy it established. From the formation of the Department of Homeland Security to vastly increased “security” budgets for political summits, and from the establishment of domestic terrorism laws to the relaxation of FBI guidelines on surveillance and infiltration, this chapter ties concrete policy reforms over the past decade to the advent of more aggressive policing strategies like the “Miami Model.” Meanwhile, intensified political repression has also created divergent currents among activists, political groups, and social change movements, which are examined here in depth.

Chapter 12: Success and Failure of Civil Litigation. Although some gains were made in the 1970s by using civil litigation to push back against political repression, restrictions on police behavior were routinely ignored and—after 9/11—eventually eviscerated. This chapter investigates reasons for, and methods of, using civil litigation to achieve compensation and police reform. At the same time, it shows how—despite repeated civil court victories—dissidents continue to bear the brunt of rights violations and indiscriminate abuse by the state.

Chapter 13: A New Dawn for Radical Legal Activism. In order to overcome the serious legal fallout that often accompanies contemporary protest, the legal community must work as collaboratively as possible with dissidents and movements for social change to identify and leverage political and legal opportunities. Drawing on the lessons of the Philadelphia experience, this chapter explores the intersection between dissidents and the law and considers how we can organize ourselves to limit the effects of political repression. It also charts the radical legal collective renaissance of the early 2000s, which was spurred in part by R2K Legal.