Studying State Repression and Resistance Curriculum

Studying Repression and Resistance with

A Troublemakers’ Guide:
Principles for Racial Justice Activists
In the Face of State Repression

Catalyst Project, December 2017

(This curriculum was developed jointly with Annie Morgan Banks and Rob McBride, co-facilitators of our study group on state repression and resistance.)

In the summer of 2017, Catalyst Project published A Troublemakers’ Guide: Principles for Racial Justice Activists In the Face of State Repression in response to requests from allied activists and organizations, especially those led by people of color. The pamphlet is a stand-alone resource, but it is best used as a basis for collective discussion. After all, the way to fight repression is with solidarity. (The pamphlet is available here). Shortly after publishing the pamphlet, we organized both short and longer workshops based on it. The most ambitious consisted of six meetings over eleven weeks. This document shares the outline, readings, videos, and exercises that we used. It merely documents this one effort; any further study groups will surely adopt other readings and videos, especially when it comes to current events, as well as adapt the exercises and other aspects. And of course it can be adapted to any number of sessions.

For each session

We started each session with acknowledgment of the Indigenous land on which we were meeting. The long history of native resistance to repression grounds us in this work.

We established group agreements at the beginning and re-posted them at each later session (see suggestions at the end). In each session there was room to bring in local events, actions, court appearances, etc. Participants brought in music and poetry to share. An email list or group where people can add resources, ask questions, etc. proved essential.

We created a rotating display of related books from the recommended resources as well as last minute inspirations. We also created a gallery of images (photos, flyers, posters, album covers, etc.) which varied from session to session.

Session 1: Introduction

Why this study?

There have always been concerted attempts by the state to destroy resistant movement that challenge white supremacy, capitalism patriarchy, so in one sense what is happening isn’t new, but things are escalating rapidly under this administration and we need to be prepared.

What we’re seeing:increased repression of political dissent, particularly directed against Black, Arab, Muslim, Latinx and indigenous movements. Increased capacity for that repression, including domestic & international militarization and ; internationally, increased military action in Syria, Afghanistan, deepening refugee crises, nuclear saber-rattling.

The good news: so many people who were not politically active stepping up to resist: response to the Muslim travel ban, women’s marches, support se to DACA

All of this means that we have an opportunity, an obligation to build a solid, resilient community of resistance in order to be the kind of allies that POC and others need us to be.

It also means that each of us have a stake in this struggle, both to say no to the injustices and say yes to the world we want to live in; taking action on behalf of other people won’t get us where we need to go. We hope in this study group will build  engage with each other to deepen our analysis of the ways the state uses threats and violence to destabilize and disrupt our movements and find ways to respond to political repression when it’s on our doorstep.

We see this as part of building strong, broad, multi-racial movements that really challenge white supremacy – movements in which white folks understand the ways white supremacy shows up in our own work, so we can act in accountable and principled ways.

Supporting movements like the Movement for Black Lives and other radical movements led by POC  that are being targeted by the state often raises questions for us: what does it take for those of us who have the privileges that come with being white, or with class privilege, to find ourselves in opposition to the state? Many of us grew up socialized to believe that the police are there to protect us, that prisons keep threatening people away from upstanding citizens, etc. Joining an anti-racist, anti-capitalist movement means we will come to see the world differently if we see it through the eyes of people who are not protected by the state; as Malcolm X said “I’m not an American, I’m a victim of America.”

Goals of this study

  1. Understand political repression.
  2. Understand the relation of repression and resistance.
  3. Understand relations between state and non-state repression.
  4. Make personal commitments to being prepared to resist repression.
  5. Organizational preparedness.
  6. Widen awareness of the issues among all our circles.

Session 1 reading and video:

  1. Catalyst pamphlet, A Troublemakers’ Guide.
  2. COINTELPRO 101 (Freedom Archives, 2012, 60 mins). [The video documentary is made and distributed by Freedom Archives. The Archives has made the documentary available to view for free online on Vimeo at The DVD includes optional Spanish subtitles and bonus materials; please consider supporting Freedom Archives by buying a copy and sharing it.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Define repression. How is it different from oppression?
  2. Share experiences of repression experienced or observed,in small groups; identify themes to bring back to the whole.
  3. We will talk about the COINTELPRO film in depth next session, but were there any “aha” moments for you in this film?

Session 2: Case Study of COINTELPRO and the Black Liberation Movement

Session 2 goals

  1. To understand more of the history of the state’s war on the Black Liberation Movement; why the BLM is seen as such a threat to the U.S. project.
  2. Explore the ways state repression is drawn from and reinforces white supremacy, patriarchy.
  3. Draw lessons from the history, see how it relates to today’s struggles (SF8, M4BL, etc.)
  4. Importance of supporting political prisoners and other subjects of repression.

Session 2 readings and video:

  1. Review pages 4-10  in Catalyst pamphlet, A Troublemakers’ Guide.
  2. Watch Fred Hampton segment of Eyes on the Prize:
  3. Read: dequi kioni-sadiki, “The Past Catches Up to the Present” in Look for Me in the Whirlwind: From the Panther 21 to 21st-Century Revolutions (PM Press, 2017).

Session 2 recommended resources:

  1. NYC Anarchist Black Cross, U.S. Political Prisoner and Prisoner of War Listing (NYC ABC, 2017).
  2. Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, eds., The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States, (2d ed., South End Press, 2001).
  3. Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, eds., Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (South End Press, 2001).
  4. Watch the 1969 documentary The Murder of Fred Hampton, produced by the Chicago Film Group.
  5. Democracy Now interview with Jeffrey Haas, author of The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther, including clips from The Murder of Fred Hampton (above).
  6. Sundiata Acoli, “A Brief History of the Black Panther Party and its Place in the Black Movement” in Dhoruba bin Wahad et al., eds., Look for Me in the Whirlwind: From the Panther 21 to 21st-Century Revolutions (PM Press, 2017).
  7. “Certain Days 2018: Awakening Resistance,” Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar.
  8. Brian Glick, “How COINTELPRO Helped Destroy the Movements of the 1960s,” in War at Home (South End Press, 1999). Available at

Questions for discussion

  1. Based on readings and both films, discuss overarching themes; why were these  movements targeted?
  2. Why did FBI see Panthers as biggest internal threat to national security?
  3. What are the tactics used historically by the government to disrupt movements?
  4. How and where do we see the goals and tactics of COINTELPRO playing out now?
  5. How do you think the state’s counterinsurgency strategy is different now from previous eras? Consider both State actions and our vulnerabilities as movements.

Facilitator notes: important themes

COINTELPRO was a counterinsurgency strategy – aimed most strongly at movements for self-determination by POC that were powerful, growing, and became threat to current order; true at home and internationally; state feared the growing unity between different movements – Fred Hampton’s building of the Rainbow Coalition, alliance with poor whites, alliances with P-Stone Nation; COINTELPRO tried to criminalize these politics, FBI tried to define what was acceptable forms of dissent and what was not; make the victims of empire the criminal; re: Black movement – depth of anti-Black racism; BLM especially threatening because it influenced/inspired other movements like AIM, Chicano struggle, anti-war movement, women’s and LGBTQ movements; political prisoners like Herman Bell and Leonard Peltier are still in prison 45+ years later.

Session 3: International Dimensions

Session 3 goals

  1. To learn about repression and resistance in international liberation struggles in Puerto Rico, Palestine, Chile, and Mexico.
  2. To understand the globalization of repression: tactics and strategies, laws, targets, actors, and alliances among government agencies, mercenaries, and corporations across national borders.
  3. To learn from the histories of resistance across the world.

Session 3 readings and video:

  1. US demands long prison term for Rasmea Odeh, based on Israeli accusations.
  2. Democracy Now: Remembering Berta Cáceres, Assassinated Honduras Indigenous & Environmental Leader [Video].
  3. Robinson, W. (2014). Global capitalism and the crisis of humanity. New York, Cambridge University Press. Excerpt: “Militarization as social control and accumulation”, pp. 201-212.
  4. Free Puerto Rico! Committee: US Colonialism in Puerto Rico 1898-.
  5. Franzblau, J. (2017, June 15). The murder of Mexican journalists points to a U.S. role in fueling drug war violence. The Intercept. Retrieved September 15, 2017 from
  6. Victor Jara and the story of his last poem. (2008, October 6). Retrieved September 15, 2017 from

Session 3 recommended resources:

  1. Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton, eds., Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter (Verso, 2016).
  2. Oscar Lopez Rivera, Statement to the American Studies Association in Puerto Rico.
  3. US activists face new repression as political prisoners fight for justice.
  4. Democracy Now, “The Case of the L.A. 8: U.S. Drops 20-Year Effort to Deport Arab Americans for Supporting Palestinian National Rights” (Amy Goodman interviews Michel Shehadeh and Mark Van Der Hout; November 2, 2007) See also
  5. SOA Watch, Militarization and state repression continue in Honduras unabated (SOA Watch, 2014).
  6. Thomas C. Wright, “Chile under State Terrorism” in State Terrorism in Latin America: Chile, Argentina, and International Human Rights (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).
  7. Stop Urban Shield Coalition, “Stop Urban Shield” (PowerPoint, 2017).

Questions for discussion:

  1. Reflecting on this week’s readings, describe the connections you see between domestic political repression in the United States and the global imperialism and political repression perpetuated by the US in other countries and against other national liberation struggles.
  2. How is it similar? How is it different?
  3. What tactics are used? What role do or should US-based activists play?
  4. Some have argued that among today’s generation of activists fewer are involved in international liberation struggles than in previous generations of US-based activists. Do you agree? If so, what are some possible reasons for this?
  5. If you have experience with practicing international solidarity, please share relevant stories in your group. What, if anything, do we gain through practicing international solidarity?
  6. Should we try to increase our international solidarity work? If so, what might be some next steps?

Session 4: current flash points of repression and resistance

Session 4 goal

  1. To discuss current flash points of state repression and their connections to past methods by examining Standing Rock/TigerSwan, J20 case, Islamphobic attacks such as the charges against Rasmeah Odeh.

Session 4 readings and videos

  1. Catalyst Project. A Troublemakers’ Guide.
  2. Democracy Now. Private mercenary firm TigerSwan compares anti-DAPL water protectors to “Jihadist Insurgency” (video]:  And Democracy Now. Part 2: Private security firm TigerSwan targets pipeline protesters in COINTELPRO-like operation (video). [A contractor previously hired by the U.S. military, TigerSwan is a private security firm hired by Energy Transfer Partners to target, surveil and violently attack Indigenous communities and community members opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Their attack on Indigenous resistance was not limited to on-the-ground surveillance but also was focused on changing the narrative on social media. Exaggerating rifts and conflicts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists as well as activists choosing different tactics has also been part of their attempts to “delegitimize the anti-DAPL movement”. They also surveilled groups and individuals alleged to have supported or participated at Standing Rock, such as members and member-groups of Black Lives Matter.]
  1. Moynihan, C. The ongoing legal battle over the “Black Bloc” Inauguration day protest: [Over 200 people were arrested on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. and are now facing felony charges. Arrestees were subjected to anal probes, pepper spray and long hours without food or water. The mass arrest was made under the auspices of conspiracy – that any protestors involved that day could be help responsible for the property destruction that occurred. While conspiracy charges may be too loose to actually result in the repercussions of the charges that are being threatened, this tactic does serve to spread fear, to encourage activists to snitch on each other, to accept plea deals and to avoid being involved in public protest.]
  2. Natasha Lennard, Know your rights: [This article pushes back on a rights discourse that is more likely to defend Richard Spencer than the person who punched him. Additionally, it debunks the myth of the “violent protest” and good and bad protester, all of which rely on the use of individual rights rather than collective rights.]
  3. R. Rakia, Black riot: [This article contrasts riots and protests, pointing out the ways in which lighter-skinned participants often are said to be “protesting” while darker-skinned participants are accused of “rioting”. The tactics of both the state and the media to delegitimize all forms of protest are questioned, as is our reliance on the mainstream media as anything but enemy.]

Session 4 recommended resources

  1. Steve Horn and Curtis Waltman, “Dakota Access security firm’s top adviser led military intelligence efforts for 1992 LA riots,” Desmog, July 5, 2017. [Drawing a line from the repression of Black protesters during the 1992 LA “Riots” to today’s repression of Indigenous activists during the NODAPL encampment.]
  2. NBC Washington. Packed hearing for Inauguration day protesters: [Video from the hearing in July for Inauguration Day protesters, where the number of defendants and attorneys meant that people were standing in the aisle.]
  3. Lamont Lilly, “Police killed Michael Brown 3 years ago: reflections on the energy and trauma of the uprising it sparked,” Colorlines, August 9, 2017. [Interview with activist Ashley Yates, present on the front lines since the very start of the Ferguson rebellion, when Mike Brown was murdered on August 9, 2014. Yates recounts a visit to the White House by Ferguson activists and also speaks to where the Movement for Black Lives is at now. She also discusses the relationship between frontline activism and trauma.]
  4. Keeanga-Yahmatta Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black liberation, (Chicago: Haymarket Books) 2016. [Taylor discusses the potential in the movement against police brutality and for Black lives.]
  5. Alleen Brown, Will Parrish, and Alice Speri, “Leaked Documents Reveal Counterterrorism Tactics Used at Standing Rock to ‘Defeat Pipeline Insurgencies’”, The Intercept, May 27, 2017. [More details on the surveillance and attacks on Indigenous water protectors by security firm TigerSwan, including aerial photos and intelligence reports.]
  6. Sarah Lazare, “The police state can come after Trump protesters, but it can’t make them cooperate,” In These Times, July 5, 2017. [More details about the treatment that protesters endured after the Washington, D.C. protests on Inauguration Day, including the measures of solidarity enacted by more than half of the defendants, such as a statement of unity and other means to ensure that these scare tactics fail.]
  7. Yael Bromberg and Eirik Cheverud, “Anti-Trump protesters risk 60 years in jail. Is dissent a crime?,” The Guardian, Wednesday 22 November 2017.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What stands out most to you about the current dimensions of political repression happening right now?
  2. What are the ways that it is similar to the political repression of the past decades we have studied? What are the ways that it is different? Include an assessment specific to the roles and risks for white activists in your discussion.
  3. In looking at the specific examples of the political repression manifest in this time, such as the targeting of “Black Identity Extremists”, Muslims under the attempts to create a “Muslim ban”, protesters engaged in opposing the Trump administration (such as the J20 arrestees) and the Indigenous land and water protectors in Standing Rock and beyond, what are the ways that repression has changed, ramped up or become more blatant in the past year?
  4. What are some of the strategies that people are employing? What is working? What is possible? Where does the “opportunity in crisis” (as Grace Lee Boggs might encourage us to look for) lie?

Session 5: Getting Practical Here and Now

Session 5 goals

  1. Identify major targets of state repression in this time
  2. Leave with concrete ideas about how we imagine responding to various forms of repression by the state

Session 5 readings and video

  1. Review pages 11-31 in Catalyst pamphlet, A Troublemakers’ Guide.
  2. If possible, bring reflections from the BACSPR needs assessment, “How Prepared Are You?”, pp 32-34 of the pamphlet with folks in your organization
  3. “Black Identity Extremist” label:
  4. “Katie’s Statement,” North Carolina Grand Jury resister Katie Yow’s statement on why she is resisting (2017). See also Natasha Lennard, “Why 1 Anarchist Is Choosing Jail Over Grand-Jury Testimony,” The Nation, August 30, 2017.
  5. Unist’ot’en Camp holding its own against pipelines (video): (11 minutes).

Session 5 recommended resources:

  1. Informant, a film by Jamie Meltzer, (Music Box Films) 2012, 81 min., or . [On Brandon Darby, a radical activist turned FBI informant.]
  2. Amy Goodman and David House, “Exclusive: David House on Bradley Manning, Secret WikiLeaks Grand Jury, and U.S. Surveillance,” Democracy Now, July 11, 2011. [interview on House’s refusal to testify at the 2017 grand jury for (then) Bradley Manning].
  3. The Tilted Scales Collective, A Tilted Guide to Being a Defendant, (AK Press, 2017).
  4. Center for Constitutional Rights, If An Agent Knocks (3d ed., 2009),

Activity: skit – adapted from Bay Area Committee to Stop Political Repression (BACSPR)

A Visit from the FBI

FBI agent: I’m so-and-so (show ID). Just a few questions; you’re not a suspect in anything. We know you are nonviolent, but some groups around your work are dangerous. You don’t want to get in trouble because of what they do. You don’t want to put your child at risk — they’re at Wee Ones daycare right now, aren’t they? We can just talk here for a minute, ok? Was John Doe at your last demo?

Targeted activist: I don’t have time now, can you leave me your card?

FBI agent: OK, come in to the office tomorrow morning. It will just be a few minutes.

Targeted activist: To roommate: This is a great chance to learn what they know, don’t you think?

Roommate: Well, gee, I don’t know. Maybe.

Targeted activist: I don’t want to get visited at work; I better go in.

Roommate: I could go in with you.

Facilitators then call on some participants finish from here — what do the roommates say to each other? Do they go? Consult with comrades? With the National Lawyers Guild? Look for answers on the internet?

Questions for discussion:

  1. Where is this scenario likely to go?
  2. What should you do now?
  3. What should you have done earlier?
  4. What should you tell anyone else about the visit?

Activity: scenarios  – adapted from Bay Area Committee to Stop Political Repression (BACSPR)

Scenario 1: A member gets subpoenaed

Members of your organization attend a demonstration. You bring along banners that make a visible contingent and one member represents your organization’s work on the mic. A group that the media and cops claim to be “Black Block” do some property damage around town. None of your organization’s members participated in this action, but you do know some of the people who did participate. Although they are part of a formal organization, in this instance they were acting as individuals. Several months later, these individuals are subpoenaed to a grand jury along with one of your members.

Questions for discussion:

  1. How do you respond as an organization (publically, in the media, to allies, etc)?
  2. How do you work with the others who were subpoenaed? What challenges might arise?
  3. How do you support your member who has been subpoenaed?

Scenario 2: A member is arrested

A member of your activist group has been arrested and criminal charges are filed against her. The warrant specifies that the arrest is in relation to your group’s organizing at a recent demonstration. Her family has already bailed her out and now intends to hire a lawyer for her.

  1.    How does your organization respond in terms of support for the
  2.    arrested individual?
  3.    How does your organization respond in terms of protecting the organization?
  4.    What could the organization have done in advance to prepare for
  5.    this situation?

Activity: Journaling

Journal on the following questions, then discuss with a partner:

  1. How would you frame a political response to an attack from the FBI?
  2. What organizations would you call on to help you in the event of an attack from the FBI?
  3. What are all of the logistics to think about? (Records and paperwork ((hardcopy and digital, computers, shredding), collective response (what triggers a response, when to go public, everybody on the same page).
  4. What to do if a member is targeted (forming a support committee and what that potentially means).
  5. How can we build movement responsibility in addition to organizational safety and responsibility?
  6. Take these home and use these and/or pamphlet in preparation for the next session.

(Thanks to Bay Area Committee to Stop Political Repression for the questions).

Facilitator notes – emphasize:

  1. Organizational assessment.
  2. Practical steps to prepare.
  3. Importance of real community (example of Unist’ot’en).
  4. Importance of supporting political prisoners, new and old.
  5. Don’t talk to the FBI, resist grand juries.

For the next session, prepare to:

  1. Discuss results of needs assessment survey.
  2. Discuss how organizations can build strong internal unity. (& why is that important for staying safe in the face of political repression?)
  3. Discuss how to deal with vulnerable members/people/situations.

Session 6 Getting Practical and Political (continued)

Session 6 goals

  1. Consolidate the lessons of previous sessions.
  2. Look back for “aha!” moments.
  3. Encourage people to continue their own prep for resistance.
  4. Encourage people to take these discussions – and the pamphlet – to their organizations and their people.

Session 6 reading

  1. Review selected pages in Catalyst pamphlet, A Troublemakers’ Guide.

Questions for discussion

  1. Ask what participants are thinking about the issues in the journaling prompts:
  2. How would you frame a political response to an attack from the FBI?
  3. What organizations would you call on to help you in the event of an attack from the FBI?
  4. What are all of the logistics to think about? (Records and paperwork both hardcopy and digital, computers, shredding), collective response (what triggers a response, when to go public, everybody on the same page).
  5. What to do if a member is targeted (forming a support committee and what that potentially means).
  6. How can we build movement responsibility in addition to organizational safety/responsibility?
  7. How are you thinking of using these and/or the Troublemaker’s Guide pamphlet in your organizations and circles.