Echoes of Rebellion: Student Protests, State Violence, and Spatial Power

Featuring Dr. Gerald Horne and Dr. Austin Kocher

by Kate Horgan
Published: Last Updated on
The Project Censored Show
The Official Project Censored Show
Echoes of Rebellion: Student Protests, State Violence, and Spatial Power
Loading
/

In the first half of the show, Eleanor sits down with author and history professor Dr. Gerald Horne to discuss the ongoing and growing student protests across the country, the violent response to them by the police state, and how this tracks with a history of student uprisings. Dr. Horne shares his own experiences in fighting apartheid in South Africa back in the 80s and how similar but amplified tactics are at play today in the fight against apartheid Israel. Later in the show, geographer Dr. Austin Kocher joins the show to discuss his work in tracking the relationship of space, power, and the state vis a vis immigration. Dr. Kocher shares insight into the research institute TRAC which uses FOIA requests to gain access to supposedly public record on immigration statistics, the morbid efficacy of digital detention and border control, and more.

 

Video of Interview with Dr. Gerald Horne

Video of the Interview with Dr. Austin Kocher

Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Dr. Gerald Horne

 Support our work at Patreon.com/ProjectCensored

Eleanor Goldfield: Thanks everyone for joining us back at the Project Censored radio show. We’re very glad to welcome back on the program Dr. Gerald Horne, who holds the Moores Professorship of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston.

His research has addressed issues of racism in a variety of relations involving labor, politics, civil rights, international relations, and war.

Dr. Horne received his Ph. D. in history from Columbia University, which we’ll be discussing a bit today, and is the author of more than 30 books and 100 scholarly articles and reviews, including my personal favorite and the very paradigm shifting book, The Counter Revolution of 1776, Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States.

Dr. Horne, thanks so much for joining us.

Dr. Gerald Horne: Thank you for inviting me.

Eleanor Goldfield: So I want to go back, because as James Baldwin says, the past is not past. In the U.S. there’s a history of students standing up or sitting down against injustice: sit ins against segregation, protests against the Vietnam War, against apartheid, protests against the Iraq War. Occupy was also big at campuses.

And in 1968, hundreds of students at Columbia University were brutally arrested and injured after protesting weapons research for the Vietnam War that was ongoing. The university was shut down for a whole week. And now that same university along with dozens across the country is the centerpoint of protests for Free Palestine, and against the genocide in Gaza.

So I was wondering, Dr. Horne, if you could give us kind of a broad picture of the history of these kind of protests at college campuses and why you feel that they are the centerpoints of protest.

Dr. Gerald Horne: Well, first of all, this question of youth and student protests is not just a U.S. issue. If you look around the world, you’ll find that youth and students have been in the vanguard of protests, be it South Africa, South Korea, or wherever.

And I think it has something to do with a kind of inbred idealism amongst the youth who have not lived long enough to be jaded, for example, and oftentimes are told in their classrooms about the heroism of preceding generations and are told in their classrooms that the way change has arrived has been not least because of young people putting their bodies on the line.

Returning to the United States of America, that’s particularly been the case on these shores. You mentioned the anti Jim Crow protests. We all know that if you go back some decades to the early 1960s in the protests in Birmingham, Alabama against Jim Crow and U.S. Apartheid, these folks who were in the streets were not only students, some of them were as young as nine years old, and in part because parents would be penalized, perhaps fired from their jobs if they joined Dr. King’s protests, and so in many ways that epical struggle in Birmingham, Alabama was a children’s crusade.

And that leads us, of course, to today, where one would have to be a cynic or an ignoramus to ignore how U.S. tax dollars are being expended in order to enforce what the International Court of Justice calls a plausible case for genocide with regard to Israeli depredations in Gaza.

And so, it’s no surprise that protests are spreading like wildfire, not only from New York, but through Washington University in St. Louis, Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, University of Texas at Austin, UCLA, USC. And, I think that we need to take our hats off to these students who have joined the question, so to speak, but at the same time, not only saluting the students, we should be in solidarity with the students, making sure that they have sufficient legal support and legal advocacy as they face the prospect of being penalized in courts.

And we also should engage in a bit of self criticism as well, because I’m not sure if older generations, my generation, for example, has prepared adequately these students for what they’re encountering. To mention one point amongst many, justifiably and understandably, the students have raised the question of what they call settler colonialism in historic Palestine.

But our generation has not done an adequate job of apprising students about settler colonialism in North America. And that opens up the students to charges of hypocrisy launched by so called Israeli patriots, for example. And likewise, our generation has helped to popularize terms like identity politics, for example, oftentimes used to describe black protests, for example.

And yet at the same time, I defy and dare anyone to find any person who has ever used the term identity politics to apply to Israel, which is a state based upon an exclusivist, ethno religious identity, where privileges and exemptions are handed out on the basis of that identity.

And so, we have not prepared our students, our youth, for what they’re encountering, and we need to, of course, go back to the woodshed as a result.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, as you were speaking, I was reminded of, Asatta Shakur’s quote, No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Which seems very apt here in the U.S.

And so I’m also curious with this historical look, we’re coming up also on the anniversary, the 54th anniversary, I believe, of the Kent State shooting. And there have been, you know, people have talked about whether National Guard would be called in, riot cops have been called in already and have brutalized students across the country. We’ve seen images of this. They’ve even brutalized professors who have been screaming that they are professors.

So I’m curious if you could make that comparison with regards to the police state’s response to protests then and now, and if you see it as a possibility or even a likelihood that we would see another Kent State type situation at one of these universities.

Dr. Gerald Horne: Well, I regret having to say that that is a distinct possibility. I need only point you to the recent inflamed remarks of Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas after pro Palestinian protests erupted in the San Francisco Bay Area. He suggested, to put it euphemistically, that muscular tactics be employed against these protesters.

Recall this is the same Senator Cotton who, during the George Floyd protests of a few years back, wrote an op ed controversially for the New York Times, suggesting similar so called muscular tactics, which of course led to the editor of the op ed page having to be forced out of his office, not least because of protests by Black journalists in particular at the New York Times.

And I might also say, that as an alumnus of Columbia University, as you mentioned in your introduction, I’ve been following that case very carefully. And if I may say so, I think that President Shafik of Columbia, shall we say, has been ill served by her advisors. Obviously, she did not have that much contact with the United States of America before assuming this prestigious post in Morningside Heights.

She is of course of Egyptian origin. And had served with international financial institutions, had served in London. And I think that her advisors should have told her, or should have impressed upon her more pointedly, the fact that bringing police onto campuses as Columbia 1968 shows, and other examples subsequently have demonstrated, is not the ideal way to deal with a peaceful protest.

Not least because we all know. that there is a strain of so called right wing populism amongst police forces who have a particular animosity and antipathy to what they consider to be elitist universities, populated as they see it by elitist students. And so at times when they march into the campus, they seize the opportunity to wage and enforce a kind of rough justice from their point of view on these students.

And so this was utterly predictable what has unfolded in the past few days, and I think that the authorities at the University of Southern California are learning the same bitter lesson, but alas, it all began in Morningside Heights, Columbia University.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And I’d like to shift here to, again, some history, since I have you here, and talk about something that I feel a lot of people, I wasn’t taught this in school, a lot of people don’t know about the Powell memo.

Louis Powell, who was a U.S. Supreme Court justice, wrote in 1971, before his appointment to the Supreme Court, what’s known as the Powell memo, a memorandum to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with suggestions on how to protect the American free enterprise system from its enemies, i. e. communists, socialists, and, as he says, other leftists. He notes that this movement against the system often originates from college campuses and calls it the most, quote, dynamic source of the assault on American enterprise and decries speakers and teachings at these campuses that criticize American capitalism and, quote, the values of Western society.

He writes about the need to stack the faculty with conservative professors to outweigh liberal and leftist viewpoints. He calls on the Chamber of Commerce to be an organized battering ram against this wave of dissent, suggesting a staff of scholars who, quote, believe in the system to be put forward for posts, a staff of speakers to speak for the chamber at universities, the evaluation of textbooks to make sure that pro business perspectives are included, and other ways of dominating campus life.

Dr. Horne, I’m curious, how would you rate the efficacy of this memo? And do you see what’s happening now as a shift away from what Powell had hoped and planned for?

Dr. Gerald Horne: Well, it seem as if Justice Powell, to use his subsequent title, had the gift of prophecy. Because what he outlined some decades ago, we see being implemented from coast to coast as we speak.

You may know, according to an article in the current issue of the American Historical Review, the leading journal for the historical profession in the United States of America, that there’s a war on Black history, for example.

Nikole Hannah-Jones 1619 Project, first a New York Times Magazine special about five years ago, and now a best selling book. Fundamentally, it has been banned in Florida and in Texas, according to this article. You have librarians that are being threatened. You have high school principals and teachers who are being threatened.

At Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, now supposedly there is going to be allegedly a way to monitor professors to make sure they’re presenting all points of view in the classroom. So I guess that means that you just can’t be anti slavery, you have to bring the pro slavery point of view into the classroom. You just can’t be anti Nazi, you have to be in the pro Nazi point of view in the classroom.

And likewise, you have these universities, many of whom are dependent upon the favors of billionaires that are being pressured. Likewise, Robert Kraft, who also happens to own the New England Patriots football team, of course, is a resident of Massachusetts, has been suggesting that in light of events at Columbia, he’s turning off the tap in terms of his donations to his alma mater. You see that Bill Ackman of Persian Capital, another card carrying member of the 1%, is boasting about how he led the charge to force out of office Claudine Gay, the first black woman president of Harvard University, forced out a few months ago.

We see that at the University of Florida in Gainesville, a former U.S. Senator, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, has taken the helm as president. And now we see erected at that campus in Gainesville, an entire college devoted to so called free enterprise principles. Although it’s going to be very interesting to see if they’re going to be held to the same standards as other faculty in terms of publishing, for example, or if they’re just going to hand plum faculty posts to propagandists.

This is a clear and present danger with regard to the Israeli question. You’re probably familiar with these various so called blacklists that are circulating on the internet. I don’t know if I should say I’m part of one singling out faculty because of their pro Palestinian positions. Who knows how that’s going to be used going forward.

And so what Justice Powell suggested has gone beyond his initial statements. We’re facing a real rollback of academic freedom. In the current issue of the New Yorker, there is an article by the Harvard professor, Lewis Manon, who says as much and suggests that many will come to rue the day that academic freedom was rolled back.

Because on the one hand, you have seen that the United States of America has tried to preen and posture on the international stage as being a paragon of civil liberties virtue, stressing the efficacy of free speech, the right to petition, the right to protest, et cetera. But now we see that some of these pledges and promises have been empty in many ways because when the rubber hits the road, when people begin to exercise their right to protest, you see that jackbooted police officers come on campus and drag faculty members off by the nape of their neck, as happened to a professor of philosophy at Emory University, not to mention countless students from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And with regards to you mentioning the income aspect, the Associated Press reported recently that according to the education department database, about 100 U.S. colleges have reported gifts or contracts from Israel totaling $375 million over the past two decades.

The data tells us little about where the money comes from or how it’s used. And the Associated Press, which, by the way, is not like some pro Palestine rag also points out that underreporting is rife. So this is just the reporting that we’re aware of.

So, Dr. Horne, I’m curious with your experience in universities and colleges, what do you think is going to happen here?

Because these universities are literally getting bankrolled by Israel and Israeli interests. I mean, it doesn’t seem like the students are backing down, which is really powerful to see. But it doesn’t seem like the universities feel that they can, because, oh, there goes the purse strings.

What are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Gerald Horne: Well, the United States is in a classic dilemma. With regard to students not backing down, once again, Columbia students have set the pace. Recall that shortly after President Shafik’s escapade on Capitol Hill, where she threw faculty members overboard, tossed them to the incoming Republican wolves in order to try to save what she thought to be the tattered reputation of her university, Columbia, she went back to campus and was greeted by a hellstorm of critique from faculty, who are now in the process of investigating her. Apparently, she released confidential details in Washington about investigations of faculty that she was not authorized to release when she brought cops onto campus.

Students did not fold. Instead, they escalated, they enhanced and increased the nature and level of the encampment. And likewise, with regard to the suspensions that are being implemented of students as we speak, the students once again have escalated. They have seized a building, Hamilton Hall, which has been the site of numerous protests at Columbia University, not only in 1968, but in the mid 1980s with regard to anti apartheid protests. So there’s a glorious tradition there.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen because I think that the billionaires who are pro Israel feel that there is wind in their sails. You might’ve seen the article in the New York Times by Andrew Sorkin, who, as you know, has a side hustle on CNBC, where he suggested that the corporate sector monitor and flyspeck carefully applicants for these prized positions and basically refuse to hire students who have been implicated in these protests.

So once again, you see this contradiction. On the one hand, the United States likes to boast and brag about how it comes out of this so called revolutionary tradition, which leads inevitably and inexorably to the first amendment,and the right to protest, et cetera, supporting democratic upsurges abroad, be they in Myanmar, Burma or elsewhere.

But when it comes to this country, when people decide to take that rhetoric seriously, you see that there is a crackdown. So speaking objectively, I have to say I’m not very optimistic about what’s going to happen on campuses going forward.

I don’t want to throw cold water on the students protests because as I said, I think that they merit and deserve our unstinting support. But it doesn’t seem like the other side feels depressed or it doesn’t seem like the other side is in any way in retreat. And so what that means is that we’re going to have to emulate the students at Columbia, which is to escalate until they retreat.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And I wanted to circle back because you mentioned the apartheid protests in the eighties. And of course, right now, these protests are targeting the apartheid state of Israel.

And I’m curious if you could talk a little bit about how you feel those student protests in the eighties had an effect on ending apartheid in South Africa and how that might be emulated today with regards to the effect of these protests on the apartheid state of Israel.

Dr. Gerald Horne: It is difficult to either overestimate or underestimate the profundity of these protests on campuses during the 1980s. Not only on campuses, but you might recall that at the South African embassy in Washington, D.C., beginning shortly after the November 1984 elections, there erupted the so called Free South Africa movement, where it became a kind of badge of honor for celebrity protesters to be handcuffed and dragged away from protesting apartheid.

Recall that these protests not only had impact with regard to universities, anticipating the demand of today, that is to say divestment, divesting, from corporations that have had holdings in apartheid South Africa.

But you also saw that it had a catalytic impact on anti apartheid legislation that passed over the veto of U.S. President Ronald Wilson Reagan, who by the way was trying to throw sand in the eyes of the U.S. public by arguing that South Africa had been a long time, long term ally, speaking of apartheid South Africa, when in fact we know that in the 1930s and the 1940s, the apartheid and pre apartheid rulers were figuratively in bed with Nazi Germany, for example.

And so these students, by adopting this tactic of divestment, on the one hand, they localized a global issue, but at the same time, they helped to contribute to a national movement with regard to legislation in Washington. And it’s still remarkable to note that even though the so called European allies are oftentimes to the left of the United States or even Canada, for that matter, with the single payer healthcare system, the United States, in many ways, was to the left of the so called allies with regard to anti apartheid legislation.

That is to say, the United States was a pioneer in that regard, which is quite unusual. And I don’t think that we can understand that without understanding the energy of these student protestors, not least at Columbia University, and the energy of the anti apartheid movement.

Now, obviously, the situation with regard to Israel is a tad different. If you look at the central constituency with regard to the anti apartheid movement, although there may have been naysayers here and there, the black community was, generally speaking, united in one voice against apartheid South Africa, and that paid dividends with regard to divestment, with regard to sanctions legislation.

I don’t think I’m talking out of school to suggest that the central constituency with regard to Israel, speaking of the Jewish community, is split. That is to say, honorably and justifiably, there’s Jewish voices for peace, there’s, if not now, there are many heroic protesters with regard to Israeli genocide in Gaza that emerged from the Jewish community. But it’s no secret, as my preceding remarks suggested, that you have a number of pro Zionist billionaires, not only Robert Kraft of Massachusetts and Bill Ackman, but the Adelson family of Nevada who have enormous gambling interests funding both the Republican Party and funding the Likud Party and Mr. Netanyahu, more specifically.

And so this fissure, this split in the central constituency, speaking of the Jewish community, helps to distinguish it from what happened in the 1980s. And we’re going to have to put our heads together and figure out what that’s going to mean going forward.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And, kind of wrapping up here, as far as I understand, what we didn’t see during the apartheid protests back in the eighties was the, I mean, you mentioned the Adelson family and Adelson actually had this meeting with Netanyahu where they created this project to basically surveil, in particular students to try and root out this anti Israel, this anti apartheid organizing. I mean, we’ve read about it in several different news outlets about how there’s so much surveillance of these kind of activities in order to root it out, in order to call it anti Semitism, et cetera, et cetera.

And so I’m curious if there’s any kind of comparison there, was there like a blacklist back then of people who were anti apartheid in South Africa? Was there any kind of machine like that that was also working against students in that way?

Dr. Gerald Horne: Well, I’m afraid to say, there was a similar machinery. In fact, if you look at my book on the anti apartheid movement, the coming to independence of South Africa in 1994 you’ll find that your guest himself was being surveilled. That is to say, and here’s where the confluence comes, that the Anti Defamation League of B’nai B’rith was monitoring people like myself and had an association with certain, I’ll say charitably and euphemistically, rogue police officers in the San Francisco Police Department, although they might not have been rogue at all, who were monitoring those of us in the movement.

I recall, for example, that when Chris Hani, a leader of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, came to Los Angeles, I hosted him. There were intelligence reports filed with regard to his remarks, with regard to my being the emcee of his appearance. And then shortly thereafter, Chris Hani was assassinated in South Africa as he was out for a morning jog, and I often wondered if there was any sort of correlation between those two events, whether or not his, I’m afraid to say rather poor security was noted in Los Angeles and whether or not that was transmitted to the apartheid authorities in South Africa who acted accordingly.

However, having said that, I think that what’s happening with regard to protest today dwarfs the monitoring and surveillance of what was taking place in the 1980s. And I think it has a lot to do once again with the fact that you have a number of billionaires in particular, who were rather open and notorious in support of Israeli apartheid.

Oftentimes, in the 1980s, many who were profiting from cheap black labor in South Africa were using different sorts of rationales to justify that. For example, that sanctions would hurt the black majority, ultimately. And they were not necessarily coming out in a full throated endorsement of apartheid.

And so what that means is that in some ways we face a rougher uphill climb today than we did in the 1980s, but given the role model that we’re all seeking to emulate, speaking of the students at Columbia, the students at UCLA and USC and in between, I’m confident to report that like in the 1980s, I’m sure will prevail in the 2020s.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for that, Dr. Horne.

And I was wondering if you have final thoughts or even suggestions for students who might be listening to this and are out protesting, or as you pointed out, folks like myself who are no longer students at universities, but rather students of life that are looking to work in solidarity with these students.

Dr. Gerald Horne: Well, one hopeful sign that’s erupting as we speak is a renaissance, if you like, in the union movement. I’m looking specifically at the United Auto Workers under President Shawn Fain, which has had enormous and significant victories in Tennessee, the heart of darkness, that is to say, Dixie, when it comes to civil rights and civil liberties. That bodes well.

And I would suggest that the students find a connection with the United Auto Workers, which shouldn’t be that difficult, for example, because at places like Columbia, a good deal of the staff, believe it or not, are UAW members, because the UAW has organized beyond auto plants, for example.

And those of us who are students of history recognize that if you look at the anti Jim Crow movement in the 1950s and 1960s, the silent partner was the United Auto Workers, under then leader Walter Ruther, that helps to explain why Martin Luther King and his comrades could fly all over the country, and participate like a historic example, or historic analogy just to a kind of Johnny Appleseed, for example.

And it’s not just United Auto Workers and other unions, but also celebrities, entertainers like the late Harry Belafonte. So I would suggest that the students try to find a connection with local unions. That should not be difficult in a place like Los Angeles, for example, where the L.A. County Federation of Labor has come out, like the UAW in favor of a ceasefire. I think that they will be predisposed to listen to the inquiries and requests of student protesters.

And likewise, I would suggest that the students hook up with the National Lawyers Guild in existence since 1937, a left leaning organization of lawyers and legal workers. Full disclosure, I used to work closely with the National Lawyers Guild. They were very helpful to anti apartheid protesters who were getting detained and arrested in the 1980s.

So that would be my recommendation to students, but if recent history is any guide, I’m sure that they beat me to the punch by already anticipating those sorts of suggestions.

Eleanor Goldfield: Well, we hope so.

It seems that they have a good handle on the present and therefore we hope that they have a pretty good handle on history as well.

Dr. Horne, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us today. Really appreciate it.

Dr. Gerald Horne: Thank you for inviting me.

If you enjoyed this segment, support our work at Patreon.com/ProjectCensored

 

Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Dr. Austin Kocher

Eleanor Goldfield: Thanks everyone for joining us at the Project Censored Radio Show.

We’re very glad to welcome to the show Dr. Austin Kocher, who is a geographer and assistant professor at the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, a research institute at Syracuse University that uses Freedom of Information Act requests to study the U. S. immigration enforcement apparatus.

He also has a faculty appointment in Syracuse University’s Department of Geography, an affiliated expert at the Institute for Democracy, Journalism, and Citizenship, and he’s a research fellow at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University. Dr. Kocher, thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Austin Kocher: Very glad to be here. Thank you.

Eleanor Goldfield: So I’d like to start with TRAC, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a comprehensive website with an, with in depth stats on federal enforcement staffing and spending anywhere from the IRS and FBI to immigration. And while I do recommend that folks check out all the categories, like I found it interesting, if not, interesting, not that surprising that the FBI investigations into white collar and corporate crimes are at an all time low.

Today we’re going to focus on immigration. And there truly is, a book or an encyclopedia book, series worth of information and stats to dig into. But on a more zoomed out level to start with, Dr. Kocher, as we tend to cover censored issues here on this show, why is a place like TRAC necessary when the information that you gather is supposedly public record?

Dr. Austin Kocher: Yeah, it’s a great question and that’s part of what animated the founding of TRAC more than 35 years ago. Dr. Sue Long and New York Times journalist David Burnham were really interested in trying to understand, and uncover information about different federal agencies that, getting records that should be in the public domain, but aren’t yet.

one of the unique things that we do, unlike a lot of other institutes or journalists or researchers that use Freedom of Information Act requests to get records, we go after digital records. So we don’t go after really paper records. so what that means for us is, most of the, most people probably understand that.

There’s been a massive shift in how government institutions are run, over the past 20 to 30 years. And most of the information that, when the Freedom of Information Act was written back in the 60s and 70s, government records meant paper records. today, all this data is stored in databases, and unlike paper records, databases are really complicated and to write good FOIA requests and to get these records and understand them requires an added level of expertise, understanding how government data systems work and how to get the information and then do something with it.

So that’s where we really specialize. And one of the interesting things that I love getting to do in this work is that, even though the records are public records, the process for getting them and making sense of them is so much more complicated. So they should be public, but in fact, One of the things I like to, to bring to people’s attention is in fact, these days, it’s not just about making the records publicly available.

In fact, most of the public is overwhelmed with information. So government agencies are putting out more records and more information, but if you don’t know how to understand them and make sense of them and make them legible to people, then all that information on the internet, isn’t going to make a difference.

So we really tried to bridge the gap, not just in terms of getting records, but also helping people to understand what’s there. so that they understand how their government works.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, and I can’t help but feel that, as a cynic, that this is done on purpose, and I’m curious to hear what your take is.

Why is this information made so obtuse or abstract so that somebody who’s not an expert couldn’t, couldn’t access it? and could you talk also a little bit about your experience in trying to obtain this? it’s not as simple as just sending in a simple request.

Dr. Austin Kocher: Absolutely. the government agencies that we are looking at in particular, immigration enforcement, they don’t have any institutional incentive to making this information public because more public oversight means more potentially more accountability.

And this is these are not agencies that are, let’s say, enthusiastic about public oversight and accountability, so they don’t really have an incentive to do it and what that means for us is oftentimes we send in public records requests, and we get a variety of denials and rejections, that we, feel really strongly or know that are unfounded or unsubstantiated, and it’s not always because the agency is explicitly trying to hide some secret thing, it’s just that there is a culture of un transparency of trying to hold onto this data and hold onto records at the agency, which means we often have, you have to go into it being prepared to fight a little bit.

whether that means writing FOIA, appeals to the rejections, you can appeal rejects to public rejections of public records requests. It means sending in a lot of public records requests and you try to get at records in more than one way, so that you might get a rejection or a denial kind of on one.

Requests, but maybe you get something back on a different request. we never send in just one request for anything. We send in more than one. and then, last worst case scenario, which is unfortunate, very common case scenario is we may have to litigate. We may have to go to court and file a lawsuit in court, which is really, intensive and demanding for us, but it’s also demanding on the agencies cause then they have to send attorneys and it does cost, the taxpayers dollars. And in fact, Whether it’s the Obama administration, the Trump administration or the Biden administration, these aides, it’s not as if a new administration comes in and all of a sudden they are just thrilled to work with the public.

there’s lawsuits that have been ongoing for administration after administration. We don’t see a whole lot of change on that. it does take a lot of work and effort, but because of, because we’ve been doing this for a long time and we refuse to give up, and we are very tenacious in our work.

We are actually able to get a lot of records and we win a lot of lawsuits.

Eleanor Goldfield: And very glad we are that there are people like you who are that tenacious and are able to stick to it. I want to shift a little bit here to something that, something that’s mentioned on the website. the role of technology in immigration, because I think we still have, we’ve moved on from the picture of Ellis Island, but we still have a pretty, analog perspective on how immigration works, right?

Like people walk up to the border and there’s some kind of interaction there and then, whatever happens next. But there really is a, like this boost in tech of technology and immigration. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that and also how this impacts then the surveillance apparatus that will follow these people wherever they end up going.

Dr. Austin Kocher: Absolutely. It’s the biggest change that I’ve seen personally in the last two to three years. the Trump administration and Trump himself is known for the “build the wall” phrase. And one of the interesting and problematic parts of that is not just that we know walls don’t really work that well to control migration.

It’s a nativist nationalist slogan. it’s there to amp, amp up a base, amp up, a certain kind of political base. but it’s also a very simple. Idea of the border. And so actually, a lot of people think of walls as being synonymous with borders in some way. And one of the things that I think the Biden administration has done differently, and I would say more effectively, but I would put effectively in air quotes, is I think the Biden administration understands that walls don’t work quite that way.

And that actually, much like what’s happened in the European Union, and other places Parts of the world, the use of technology can be a much more effective bordering tool actually than walls. And what that means is, these days, there’s, for instance, there’s two main, smartphone applications that, the Department of Homeland Security uses to collect data on and monitor and process migrants.

One is called CBP One It’s an app that asylum users, sorry, asylum seekers use. Actually, the Freudian slip there is very important because one of the ways that I have been theorizing this technology is the way in which the technology turns essentially refugees into users, Facebook user, Twitter user, CBP One user, and so it’s an app that migrants have to download onto their smartphones and use in order to even try to get asylum in the United States, and it’s an app that they can use as far south as Mexico City, so it really extends quite deep into Mexico.

and then, even once migrants get through that process, they may be put on another smartphone app called Smart Link, which serves as a kind of electronic ankle monitor. You can’t see it. It’s not on your ankle. It’s on your smartphone. but it does serve much the same purpose. And so you can think of that, you can think of these apps as being both outside of the United States, ways of the United States expanding and expanding border control deep into Mexico, which the United States has been doing for a long time, but now we’re doing it with new technologies.

And then also it’s extending and expanding that border, Technology and that border apparatus deep into the country because migrants are using that smart link app, all over the country, not just near the border. So the reason, the takeaway message from all of that is that I think currently the Department of Homeland Security is really seeing that bordering mission that they have of quote unquote controlling the border and regulating migration control as a much more geographically expansive project, not just something that’s build the wall, but it’s actually build the network.

that’s what the Biden administration is doing. And what that means practically is in the short term, some of these technologies have or have purported mix of benefit. And it’s a little bit of stick and a little bit of carrot. And when I interview immigration attorneys and migrants and other people who work in that space, they are struggling with the fact that there, there are actually some benefits.

to some of these technologies, but they are also keenly aware that the larger negative, and there are lots of negative consequences, by the way, but, but the larger negative societal level and political level consequences are massive data collection of migrants. And these data systems, which I described those two apps, At this point, they’re not exactly directly linked together and on a migrant smartphone, but they do all feed into common data sets, data systems and databases, which now gives the Department of Homeland Security, I think, a really massively quickly expanding, a pool of data and resources to effectuate deportation programs.

So here’s, I’ll just close this part of the conversation with what in my mind is both a nightmare scenario, but not that far off, which is if we get another Trump administration, and at this point, it’s a coin toss, if not maybe even slightly more likely based on the polling that we’ll have a second Trump administration, that Trump administration is going to have massive more access to data on migrants because of what the Biden administration has built.

And if they wanted to roll out massive deportation programs, raids, sweeps, ice knocking on people’s doors. they could do that and they could do that quicker and more effectively at scale because of the massive amount of data that the Biden administration has collected. So I think that’s a real.

we are in for a very interesting and concerning decade when it comes to surveillance of migrants.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. I often say that neoliberalism paves the road to fascism and, of course, Obama handed Trump the most, the largest surveillance network that the world has ever seen with regards to the NSA and was like, here.

yeah, it is, it is very, very dark Nightmare scenario, indeed. And I’m curious, with that, with the technological and surveillance aspect, I think there’s another side of this that people don’t know about or think about, and you discussed this on track as well, ATD programs. Could you talk a little bit about what those are and how this, quote unquote alternative could in fact also be darker, in some ways?

Dr. Austin Kocher: Certainly. So the Alternative Detention Program has been around since 2003. there were these experiments in the 90s to say, Okay, we’re starting to expand immigrant detention. We’re putting, immigrants, migrants into what is not prisons. Technically, they’re civil detention facilities. These are not people who are held on criminal charges in any way. it’s a very, almost a barely legal kind of system. And one of the options that the in the 90s was proposed was to say, we don’t really need to keep all these people in detention. What they need is community support, legal support, so that while they’re going through their immigration process, they they’re going to go to their hearings, they’re not going to, they’re not, they’re just, they’re trying to apply for asylum, they’re trying to find a way to stay in the country legally, they’re trying to do it the right way, they don’t need to be in detention, and we don’t need to spend tax dollars doing that.

what that turned into in the, during the first Bush administration was effectively creating not a true alternative to detention, where we were taking people out of detention and reducing detention, but actually an expansion of what we in geography called sort of carceral logics of migrant control.

detention never went down. Detention’s always gone up, but alternatives to that, to detention as it’s called, is basically an electronic monitoring program, somewhat like pretrial and post conviction, detention. Programs in the criminal legal system where there’s, ankle monitors and check ins with the parole officer.

That’s a similar model that we use in immigration these days. but again, rather than really serving as an alternative, what it’s done is it’s massively expanded. How many people are monitored on a regular basis, by immigration customs enforcement, and that’s actually that program that the smart link app I was mentioning, that’s one of the technologies that is now being used.

There’s a smartphone app. They still use ankle monitors, a very old technology that they use. and in fact, they just started rolling out in the last year, smart watches. so now there’s like an ankle monitor, but it’s a smart watch, so they wear it on their wrist instead of their ankle. and that, we track these numbers, so we’ve seen that go from a year ago, they had a pilot program in Denver, Colorado, with 50 people.

And the last I checked, there’s 1, 500 people now on that smart watch program. in addition to this alternative detention model being not really an alternative, much more of an expansion of sort of control. By the way, I should just add, there’s also, part of that is also, some people are put on a kind of home restriction, they can’t leave their home, or they can’t leave certain areas.

they can’t leave their city. They can’t leave their state, without permission. obviously this creates all kinds of problems to see family, just normal things that any of us would do. They have all kinds of additional restrictions. For the smartphone app, this is really concerning. They often get notifications through their, smartphone about different immigration things.

And many of them report a real increase in psychological distress, not only feeling Oh my gosh, the government is on my smartphone, but also if I don’t answer a notification, I’m going to be deported. that’s so it can be pretty terrifying. I think for people on it, even though.

Even though if the dilemma was really between, should someone be in detention versus not in detention, any of the attorneys I talked to will tell you, whatever we can do, we don’t want our clients in detention. But, but because of the harsh consequences of detention, it’s The government kind of sets up something that’s really harsh and then says, Oh, if you don’t want that, take this slightly less harsh thing. And then that’s the mechanism for forcing people to decide between two things that the government itself has set up. and in my view, we should question both.

We shouldn’t view it as one or the other, but actually question, why do we have any of these systems in the first place?

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. if somebody has an ankle monitor and they’re on house arrest, you wouldn’t call them a free person, so they’re still under detention. And I’m curious, do you, is this considered, with TRAC, are these numbers combined in, an overall detention, or do you split them up and make that distinction?

Dr. Austin Kocher: Yeah, so we, on the data that we get that ICE publishes every two weeks, we, Use the distinction that’s common in the field of policy research and how ICE classifies this data. So we do track detention numbers in terms of immigrants in detention and ATD numbers separately. there’s two reasons for that.

One is just from a data science perspective, they represent two quite different populations with different sort of characteristics and different data sources. So to combine them, we’d have to. We’d have to do some work, you’d have to make some assumptions and it might be confusing for some people. so that’s one reason.

The other reason is, from a practical perspective, we are, we’re also tracking trends and the trends in those two areas differ in many ways. So we want to be as analytically precise as possible based on the data we have. So we do keep them separate. however, I, as a researcher and as a geographer, I’m always looking for ways to not just how do we describe accurately described trends and make sense of the data, but also how do we theorize this, within the understanding that we have.

as a in sort of critical social sciences, thinking about the state capitalism power race and racism, all these kinds of questions. And so that’s where I really draw on, some of my colleagues like, Ruth Wilson Gilmore who’s a geographer. And others who would theorize some of these things around ideas of racial capitalism, Dominique Moran, who’s a really great British geographer talks a lot about, carceral circuitry, circuits of carceral power, and to actually try to stitch together this idea that it’s not, alternatives to detention, end detention and border control, but actually what animates all of these things is this notion of controlling bodies, particularly people of color’s bodies, in the U. S. sort of, project of racialized nation state making and, reproducing the state. So it’s really a question of, how does the state use different kinds of technologies and geographic parts of control and exercise of power to carve out these kind of exceptions for people who quote unquote don’t belong, don’t deserve.

whatever, however you want to think about that in terms of the current policy environment. So that’s what I really try to do is I try to help people understand, Hey, it’s not one or the other, actually the logic beneath all of these are really crucial to understand what that allows us to do then is not just to theorize these better, but actually then to take a next step and say, how do you dismantle things like this?

How do you challenge it? And one of the ways you do that is you start to recognize that, the immigrant detention is not a problem for brown people or Latinos or Hispanic people. And then the criminal legal system in the United States is about black and African, right? But it’s actually, there’s all kinds of overlaps here.

And actually the more that you bring, and by the way, working class white people are also affected by these things. So how do you bring together the, that the collapse of the welfare state, the act of the active dismantling of the welfare state with the rise of border controls and the rise of technology for monitoring and say, actually, this is a problem affects lots of us.

in fact, I misspoke a second ago. I always add this as a footnote. I said that these technologies are about monitoring migrants, but in fact, that’s not totally true. it affects anyone who’s in these households, and many of them live with children or spouses or grandparents or partners that are U. S. Citizens as well. And so if you’re near, or in those similar spaces, you’re effectively wrapped up in that sort of surveillance apparatus. So it does actually affect all of us, which is not to say it affects all of us equally, but it does affect all of us. And it’s a question that we all need to be asking ourselves.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And I love that you stitch things together because that’s very much what I like to do as well. And, we recently had on the show Christian Sorensen, who has done a lot of work mapping the, the business of war. And one of the things that he pointed out is that it’s not the border industrial complex.

It is the military industrial complex at the border. And, it is. I often times say that imperialism is a home game. we turn that violence inwards as well. Because if you only speak to the world in one language, and that’s the language of violence, it’s ridiculous to assume that you could come home and be Mr. Rogers. And so I really appreciate that you combine those issues, I think that’s so important. And with regards to the ATD, I can’t help but wonder, and this might be a question that doesn’t have an answer or that you don’t know the answer to, but okay, so we have the ATD, which is dark and Orwellian and Black Mirror esque, but then why are there still kids in cages?

Like, why is that still a thing that happens?

Dr. Austin Kocher: Yeah. Yeah. it’s very practically speaking. there’s always going to be an aspect of the immigration system, at least under the current model that, where one exercise of carceral power is about detaining and controlling bodies and confined spaces like that.

and in fact, it’s more helpful to view detention as a pathway to monitoring, so it is part of the pipeline, detention is what, being in detention is in many cases. That is actually what gets you put on electronic monitoring and then being on a lot electronic monitoring.

Once you’re in that sort of system, it’s just much more likely that you’re going to end up back in detention again, because you didn’t make an appointment, you didn’t answer a notification, like whatever the reason might be. So it’s definitely a system that relies on rotation. and so in, in some ways, we can think about electronic monitoring as could it exist actually without detention?

Like they’re just so closely interconnected, but you’re right. it’s, and that’s one of the easiest things to point out when talking about, about what this alternative detention model, why is it even there when we still have people in detention, especially kids?

And it’s, it’s just, it’s because they’re, they require each other, they need each other, for the system to work, unfortunately, it under this model. Again, we can certainly imagine different models. We didn’t always have this model. There, there was no such thing as immigrant detention like we have it today prior to 1980.

it literally, the non, the for profit prisons that we have today in America were, the first ones were for immigrants. Then it expanded to other areas, but the first ones were for immigrants. classic story of immigrants and marginalized people getting something tried out on them first and then expanding to the rest of the population.

In fact I mentioned CBP one is the app that asylum seekers have to download on their phone. the customs and border protection, which oversees that program has just submitted a request, for approval through the, normal federal rule change process to expand the use of that app to immigrants who are coming to the United States and other ways, lawfully.

Not asylum seekers, but other people. And you can imagine these technologies again, they just, they get bigger and bigger and it won’t be that long if you’re a U.S. citizen that lives in the U.S. Mexico border area or the U.S. Canadian border area. this app is going to be on your smartphone in a couple of years and you’re going to have to do things with it.

So it’s, that’s why we have to pay attention to these things early and often.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And again, very glad that you made those connections. And I want to circle back with the time that we have left, because you mentioned, of course, that this Network reaches as far south as Mexico City, and it reminds me of this idea that where I actually saw you first was at a book event here in Baltimore at Red Emma’s, where you were on a panel discussing John Washington’s book, The Case for Open Borders, and in that book, something that it highlights is how borders are so malleable and movable, and yet we think of them as these steadfast, immovable spaces, particularly the southern border.

And yet you just pointed out, no, the U. S. southern border, at least digitally, extends far into Mexico. And so I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about, you mentioned you’re a geographer, and I think some people listening might be like, what does that, that’s not like immigration law, like, where does this connect?

Could you talk a little bit more about this area of study, the legal geographies of immigration?

Dr. Austin Kocher: Yeah, absolutely. And, for geographers, what we’re really interested in, what I’m interested in as a political and legal geographer, is this connection between space and power and the state. mostly applied to immigration.

although I’m also done some work around policing and other questions. And, for geographers, the reason that we’re interested in space. Is twofold from like a big picture perspective. We can’t imagine human existence outside of some sort of spatial, aspect. we create our, we create some kind of home for ourself.

That’s a part of placemaking, part of placemaking and creating the space that we live in. Often means we create these sort of ideas about who belongs and who doesn’t belong. and this is something that becomes very much wrapped up in identity. So we think, the Jim Crow era was all about creating all of these micro borders and all of these geographic forms of social control to keep black and white people in the South separated with that aspect of maintaining racial control and white hegemony.

and controlling integration in very careful ways. This is also something that happens, so that’s a racial example. That also happens with gender, the way that spaces are coded as masculine or feminine or non binary or the ways in which heteronormativity plays out. Where, some spaces are saturated with those kind of masculinist tropes and images and practices.

And so one thing that’s always a part of our understanding of how, power works in society is how space is actually created and controlled. That, all of those things are also true on the national level, where, you know, one of the most serious, And in my view, one of the most damaging, ideas and, evolution and how human societies organize itself is around this nation state system, which is quite young.

Most of the world had no such thing as boundaries and borders and nation states, that we have today. If you look back at a map 300 years ago. A couple, little bit of parts of Europe, and that was it, and so this is a model of human organization that has spread really dramatically.

And although there’s always been different kinds of forms of social division, the nation state model brings with it this, what Weber calls the sort of monopoly on the use of force and power. So then we get. armies that are attached to territorial control on the outside, and we get police that are that expression of state power on the inside, and we get borders, which are all about regulating this access to space and access to population.

One of the most important things that’s happened in, let’s say, the last hundred years, and this is where sort of my research comes in, is that there’s Is that we’ve seen or let’s say the last 50 years is we’ve seen with the combination of globalization and the collapse of sort of post World War II Bretton Woods institutions, and as you said, the growth of neoliberalism, one of the things that has emerged is that borders, although very important, heart, hard physical borders at the edges of nation states, although that’s really, those are continued to be in our more militarized than ever Most countries and most people who are the captains of industry recognize that actually we need a different labor geography that a nation state model can’t provide.

and capital and capital flows of investment and accumulation and dispossession are all phenomena which are cross border. So there is no company, there is no such thing as an American company anymore. There isn’t a company that doesn’t have manufacturing and labor all over the world. And there isn’t a company that, that solely keeps their money located in one country.

it’s, these are investments and the flow around the world. And so we already know that in many ways, borders are a leftover technology. And yet at the same time, what we’ve seen militarized. But what we’ve also seen is these mechanisms of control have also You know, their geography has changed dramatically to keep up with this.

yeah, the app goes deep into Mexico. we could even ask ourselves, what, that’s, a, weird question of, territorial sovereignty. Does the United States have the right, to require it? so it’s a question, but at the same time, the U. S. has been funding, Mexico’s southern border enforcement for a long time.

FBI and ATF agents regularly work throughout Latin America. One of my colleagues, Matt Coleman, Ohio State University, working with Kendra McSweeney there, they’re looking at Coast Guard interdictions off the coast of South America. You think of the Coast Guard as going around the United States, they’re not.

they’re getting approval from countries in South America to go and snatch people who might be suspected of drug trafficking on the open seas. So that this I all of the things which gave rise to the nation state and these institutions of power and use of force, they are not concentrated just at the border, but they’re expanding, around the world. But, if you fly to the United States from most countries in the world, you have to go through a pre screening. I don’t go through a pre screening. When I fly to Germany or when I fly to Mexico, but if you fly to the United States from those places, you’re getting pre screened in France and in Mexico, and so we’ve just what we’ve seen is, even though the border remains really crucial as a site of political action and violence, that violence is really just from a geographic perspective has just exploded.

And so trying to keep up with what’s happening and to understand the human rights implications, as well as, what we might do to mitigate the harm, is just a fundamental concern to, a lot of political and legal geographers like myself, we’re trying to re conceptualize what space means in this new era of state violence.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah. Wow. I feel like I could talk to you about this for the next 10 hours, that also speaks to so much with regards to the fact that U. S. imperialism, we just, the U. S. just forces itself onto so many different nations that are supposedly their own sovereign nations. And then, so what does that mean in terms of their sovereignty that we have almost a thousand military bases around the world?

And, where does that border lie? at least for Uncle Sam, he doesn’t seem to have any borders. but again. Unfortunately, we have a limited amount of time. So I guess we have to leave it here for today. Dr. Kocher. Thank you so much for digging into this topic and contextualizing so much of this.

Where’s the best place for folks to follow your work?

Dr. Austin Kocher: Sure. So I would say, we I really like where this conversation has gone. I appreciate this as well. And, I really appreciate the work that you guys are doing at Project Censored. we do really put out a lot of data at TRAC, T R A C dot S Y R dot E D U about the immigration system.

it’s, just, we try to make the data legible. There’s a whole bunch of different interactive graph, graphs and tools. So if you’re interested in immigration, it’s a great resource. I’m also on Twitter at AC Kocher and Substack at Austin Kocher. and I, try to stay pretty active.

And in addition to the scholarship, I try to write as much online and make it as accessible as I can for folks. Anyone’s welcome to reach out on any of those platforms.

Eleanor Goldfield: Awesome. thank you so much. Really appreciate you taking the time to sit down with us.

Dr. Austin Kocher: Thanks a lot.