I was picking cucumbers in the garden when the soldiers came.
It was Thursday morning at about 9:30 a.m. I’d come to Gaia House because I was feeling restless and wanted to pick some cucumbers and tomatoes before the insane summer swelter set in for the day. The college students are about to start their semester next week, so it was a busier day than it has been lately. There were cars on the street, people walking by, a group at Gaia House for breakfast and conversation, and so on. But really, it just seemed like a normal day.
There were about a dozen of us at Gaia House that morning, but only two of us were outside. I was near the back door picking cucumbers. Dharani was near the edge of the yard tending the compost pile. She’s on the garden committee, so I often see her out there doing this or that when I come to Gaia House.
At first, I didn’t even notice the military-style vehicles. My back was to the parking lot north of the garden and there was a hill between me and the street south of the garden. So at first, I didn’t even see that about a half dozen armored personnel carriers had shown up in the parking lot and on the front lawn. Something didn’t feel right, though, so I looked over to Dharani and saw a look of shock on her face. That’s when I turned around to see a few dozen men in black body armor pouring out of these vehicles and rushing toward the building.
Most of the soldiers in the parking lot went straight for the back door. As I looked around in a panic, I also saw another group going in the front door. Five of the soldiers coming from the north split off from the main group and came at me and Dharani with their assault rifles pointed at our chests.
“Hands in the air! Hands in the air!”
I dropped my bucket full of cucumbers and put my hands in the air. Dharani dropped her shovel and put her hands in the air too. Each of us had two soldiers with rifles pointed at our chest. The fifth soldier had his gun held low but ready if he needed it. Keep in mind here that I’m 5’2″ and about 110 pounds. Dharani is maybe 5’4″ and about the same build as me, which is lean. Not that any of that should matter, but we’re both so small and friendly that it’s hard to imagine anyone being intimidated by us. But there they were, these huge grown men, pointing their rifles and shouting orders like we were dangerous criminals.
“On your knees! Hands behind your head!”
I knelt next to the garden and put my hands behind my head. Dharani has a bad knee, so without thinking, she put her hand on the edge of the compost bin while she was trying to kneel. The soldier didn’t shoot her, thank God, but he did freak out and knock her down as if she had just reached for a weapon. Then he rolled her over on her front, knelt on her back, and cuffed her hands. I couldn’t hear exactly what she was saying, but she was in pain.
After they put the cuffs on me, they searched my pockets and took my phone. Then they had me stand up and shoved me up against the wall. They made me stand there for a few minutes while they searched the building and grounds for more people.
A lot can happen in a few minutes.
The first thing was that they marched the rest of the people out of Gaia House. There were nine or ten people, all of them in handcuffs except for this one little boy, maybe ten or eleven. Seeing that boy walk out of there was such a sad moment for me. Something about the look on his face just shook me. He was a little scared, but mostly he was just sad. He shook his head and sighed, a knowing sigh that should never have to come out of the mouth of a child. They didn’t cuff him, but they pointed a gun at him and made him stand against the wall with the rest of us until social services could come and get him. At least I hope they took him to social services. He was only a boy.
The other thing was scary and creepy. Once they caught everyone, a few men in suits and ties got out of an unmarked car and started talking to the men in body armor. One of the suit men walked right up to me and glared at me, glancing over his shoulder to see if his buddies were looking. When he saw that the other men were busy, he pulled out a handgun and pressed the muzzle hard against my forehead. Then he leaned in closer and whispered in my ear.
“Go home. This is your final warning.”
And then he punched me! I have never felt such pain in my entire life. He gave me a quick punch under the ribs and I just crumpled in pain. I couldn’t breathe for a minute and I almost passed out. I thought I was going to be sick. I’ve been slapped and punched before by playground bullies when I was a kid, but obviously they didn’t know anatomy as well as this guy. I didn’t want to get back up, but while that guy was walking away, one of the soldiers started shouting at me. So once I caught my breath, I stood up straight and put my hands against the wall as best as I could.
After a few minutes, the soldiers started making a mess of the place. I could hear furniture moving and things crashing around inside the building. Outside, they were starting to bust open the wood of the raised beds and compost bin. Supposedly, they were looking for hidden weapons or who knows what else. But really, it seemed like they just wanted to smash everything. That’s about all I saw, though, because then they marched us into the van.
The whole ordeal took about twenty four hours for me. After the raid, they drove us around for about twenty minutes and then locked us up in separate rooms. We arrived in an enclosed garage, so I don’t even know if the place was a police station or some weird Homeland Security detention center. I spent about a dozen of those hours in a small windowless room with nothing to do. They would come in occasionally and ask me questions.
“Are you a member of the Green Front?”
“Are you a member of the Green Guard?”
“Where are your weapons?”
“Who’s funding your trip to Miami? What do you plan to do when you get there?”
At some point in the week before the conference, Jess explained to me what I should do in these types of situations. I mostly just said that I wanted to talk to a lawyer. Every once in a while, they would get me to say something more, like saying I was staying with Alejandra, or saying I don’t own any guns, which is true. But then I realized I should stop talking because they can trick you into saying all types of crazy things if you start talking. So I just kept asking for a lawyer.
They never let me talk to a lawyer. But they eventually put me in a slightly bigger room with a small window on the door, a little cot attached to the wall, and this weird thing that was some combination of a drinking fountain on top and a toilet on the bottom. Gross. I spent the night in that room, sleeping occasionally and wondering if they were going to send me to some secret prison for the rest of my life.
I started to lose my sense of time. There was no clock, no one to talk to, and I could barely hear anything from outside the room. It was crazy. But then eventually, they just opened the door, put me in cuffs again, put me in the back of the van alone, and drove me to the Carbondale train station. Then they took off my cuffs, kicked me out of the van, and left.
It was all so strange and disorienting. They had taken my phone and my money, so I had no way to call anyone. Carbondale is a small town, so I decided to just walk to Gaia House and call someone from there.
It had been almost a day since the raid, but Gaia House was still a mess. The soldiers had gone out of their way to ruin most of the garden, trampling the parts on the ground and smashing open the raised beds. There were still parts that were fine, but only because they hadn’t bothered to be methodical about it. When I went inside, a few people were there doing some cleaning. Not much was actually broken, but they had dumped a bunch of old paper files, emptied out some boxes, and taken every computer, phone, or other electronic device in the building. I knew it was a long shot, but I decided to go into the office in search of a phone.
And there were Alejandra, Jess, Ermete, and a few other people all standing in a circle and talking to each other.
I have never been so happy to see anyone. I ran up to them and we all hugged and cried and talked about what happened. They filled me in on some more of the details. It was a Homeland Security raid, and it was part of a big day of raids across the country. The media said it was part of a counter-terrorism effort, but a lot of people see it as payback for the conference. Everyone else in town who was arrested got released last night, so people around town were starting to believe that I was one of maybe a hundred people across the country who were being detained indefinitely as enemy combatants. They were in the office talking about who else they could contact about finding me, when they should hold a rally demanding my release, and so on. And then I walked right in the door! They were really happy to see me too.
For the moment, everything’s starting to settle down. After Alejandra gave me some real food, we all spent a little while cleaning up Gaia House and talking about our next steps. Then I had dinner with Jess and Ermete. After dinner, Jess brought me to the library so I could write all of this about the raid. Posting new entries may be harder for a little while because Homeland Security took everything remotely resembling a computer. I’ll just have to come here with Jess or get help from someone who’s house didn’t get raided.
It’s good that no one was shot, and it’s good that they released us all, and it’s good that I can still go to Miami soon. But some of the details may have to change now. Our donors will have less money than they used to because they’re helping Gaia House recover from the raid. There are also a couple of people who may just stay home now for various reasons. Jess is on the fence again about going to Miami, but I think she’ll come around tomorrow after a good night’s sleep. In the meantime, I should probably go home with her so we can both get some sleep. Thanks for reading all of this, and if you got raided too, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.