INTERVIEW

Journalist arrested by DC police exposes persecution against anti-imperialists in US

Max Blumenthal spoke to Brasil de Fato about the "unusual" accusations he faced after defending Venezuelan embassy

Leia em português | Brasil de Fato | Caracas, Venezuela

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GrayZone's editor was under arrest for two days without being intimated before / Peoples' Dispatch

Max Blumenthal is a 41-year-old US investigative journalist. Co-director of the documentary Killing Gaza, which reported the massacre of the Palestinian people by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip. He is also the author of four books: AlternNet, The Daily Beast, Al Akhbar, and Media Matters for America, and was awarded the 2014 Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Notable Book Awar for his book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.

In 2015, he founded The GrayZone portal for investigative reporting on the US establishment's operations in Latin American countries and around the world.

This year, Max Blumenthal and other reporters on GrayZone's team reported on the relationship between the actions of the Venezuelan opposition congressman Juan Guaidó and the Donald Trump administration.

They published a series of reports, defended the Venezuelan government, and denounced the fake news produced by the United States at the United Nations, and were part of the Venezuelan embassy's defense collective in Washington, which for weeks prevented the occupation of the building by the team appointed by the opponent, Juan Guaidó.

On October 25, Max was arrested and detained for two days for allegedly assaulting a Venezuelan opponent in front of Venezuelan diplomatic headquarters in DC.

The journalist states that the complaint is completely false and, in this interview, tells his version of the facts.

Brasil de Fato: Some things are unclear about your arrest. How many police officers were involved in the operation? How many hours were you unable to communicate with others? Why you were released? And are you still facing prosecution?

Max Blumenthal: I was arrested two [three] Fridays ago at 9 a.m. by a team of District of Columbia police officers. They said they had a warrant for my arrest for simple assault, which is a misdemeanor. It's not a high crime. But I was listed for some reason on the warrant as "armed and dangerous," even though I have no arms and there is no record of me being dangerous.

Only three percent of arrest warrants in the United States contain this listing, and it's for people who have prior records of homicide or violence. So this is a very dangerous scenario. The police threatened to break down my door if I did not allow them inside, then they gave me about two minutes to put on clothes. They handcuffed me, put me in a van, and took me to one prison in my neighborhood and then another prison that is called central booking.

I was held there in various cells with other prisoners for two days while I waited a hearing where I would see a judge, which is very unusual.

Prison is not fun. There was one point when I was shackled from my hands and legs for five hours in a very cold area as I waited to see the judge. I was let go on my own recognizance, which means I was let free until my trial.

My charge, simple assault, is almost always dropped, but the government seems to be going ahead with the trial. So I will have a trial probably in March.

I was not allowed to call my lawyer while I was in prison. It was only because my partner, Anya, witnessed the arrest that a lawyer visited me. So that is a constitutional violation.

It's important to know that I was arrested on a warrant for an alleged incident that occurred five months ago. In between those five months, I saw you in Venezuela, I was able to travel in and out of the country, which means that I did not have a warrant until recently, which is very unusual.

What happened that day at the embassy? Do you confirm that you had any kind of confrontation with the Venezuelan opponent?

As far as the incident described in the court documents, all I can say is that the facts will speak for themselves if the government wants to take this lie to trial.

So you believe it is all part of a chase? How do you intend to report this situation?

This is absolutely a case of political persecution. I have been accused falsely of a crime, by an element, the Venezuelan right-wing opposition that I and my publication, The GrayZone, have been exposing as violent, as corrupt for the whole year.

And those who made this false accusation knew who I was and they used the [US] federal government and local law enforcement as a tool of revenge, and put me on a very danger situation, with this team of armed police officers showing up at my door for a warrant, where I was listed falsely as "armed and dangerous."

So this is political persecution of a journalist and political revenge by an anti-democratic right-wing movement, and the DC police made no attempt to investigate this false allegation before executing the warrant.

This is part of a wider campaign against The GrayZone and against anti-imperialists in the western media – not only to demonize them, but to use the legal system against them.

What is the goal of the Trump administration with your arrest? Do you believe there is any electoral interest?

I think we need to get more documentation to determine what the level of collaboration between the Trump administration and the right-wing Venezuelan opposition has been. But it appears fairly clear that the right-wing Venezuelan opposition, which is paid by the US government – Carlos Vecchio, the fake [Venezuelan] ambassador, his salary is paid by USAID [United States Agency for International Development] – was consistently putting pressure on the Department of Justice to prosecute me for something that I did not do. They concocted and invented a lie about me, in order to use the legal system to prosecute and silence me.

I have said that they want to steal a country, they've tried to steal an embassy here in D.C., and now they want to take away my freedom.

Edition: Rodrigo Chagas