The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is targeting Eric King, an unapologetically vocal anti-fascist, yogi and poet who has been incarcerated since September 2014, for his political beliefs. King was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison after being charged with attempting to set fire to a government official’s empty office building in support of the Ferguson, Missouri, uprising in 2014.
On March 10, 2020, Sandra Freeman, King’s lawyer, filed a motion requesting a hearing related to ongoing abuse against her client and interference with the attorney-client relationship. “The institutional interference with my relationship with my client and our ability to prepare for trial is ongoing and unlike anything I have previously experienced during my time as an attorney in multiple jurisdictions,” Freeman wrote in the filing.
Lt. Donald Wilcox ordered King to attend a private “interview” in a prison storage room at FCI Florence in Colorado on August 17, 2018, according to a statement written by King. Lieutenant Wilcox works in the Special Investigative Services (SIS) unit, a shadowy nationwide department that investigates and surveils people who are deemed threats within the BOP system.
The lieutenant yelled about his hatred for terrorists and screamed bizarre, false statements, including that King had killed Wilcox’s daughters. King wrote that the lieutenant threatened “all sorts of vigilante justice to have me raped and killed…. He made this gurgling noise and spit on me and shoved me and began to attack me.” King allegedly punched Wilcox back in self-defense.
Four more guards reportedly dragged King into the hallway and repeatedly kicked him in the head, face, stomach and ribs while yelling death threats. He was tied to a four-point restraint for eight hours in a pool of his own blood and urine, and was repeatedly denied medical care, mail and lawyer visits (long before visits were restricted due to COVID-19). He has experienced “tingling in his limbs, headaches, blurred vision and nausea daily” since this incident, his legal defense fundraiser states.
King’s partner, who prefers the pseudonym Rae and uses they/them pronouns, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer just before Lieutenant Wilcox reportedly attacked King. “Within three hours of being home from the hospital after my [cancer-related] surgery, I learned that Eric was in danger. There is this visceral memory that I have that I just can’t escape from. Laying in bed, all alone with a slight fever, the surgical site on my neck so inflamed and hot, groggy from anesthesia and pain relief, and that phone call came in. When crying is so, so painful. Just sitting there so confused so gutted and just destroyed,” they told Truthout.
After guards reportedly assaulted King, another SIS member told him that he would be denied access to his lawyer until he signed a statement that he hit Wilcox in self-defense. King signed. The BOP transferred him to USP Leavenworth in Kansas and placed him in solitary confinement for about a year, which meant he could not see or talk to anyone and was restricted from reading books and keeping photos in his cell.
He was subsequently transferred to USP McCreary in Kentucky, a maximum-security federal prison. During the transfer from Kansas to Kentucky, King was sent to an Oklahoma transfer center and placed in a cell with a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist gang.
Once King arrived at McCreary he was placed in solitary confinement: the guards and lieutenants reportedly told him that he would be killed or injured by white supremacist gangs if he was put into the prison’s general population with other people. In an email to his partner, King wrote that one guard told him, “Oh god damn I hope they let you out [of solitary], I hope our boys on the yard get to meet the antifa boy!” Staff let him out of solitary confinement and led him directly to white supremacists in the yard. King was reportedly attacked, disciplined and placed back in solitary.
In a letter to Truthout, King explained how white supremacists and fascists “play police in the prisons…. They take on that role, deciding everyone else’s business.” He detailed how white supremacists have pulled knives on him behind bars, and target him for allowing people of all races into the yoga and poetry classes he is teaching while incarcerated.
“[The guards] have caused me mountains of trouble, of course they would though,” King wrote in his letter to Truthout. “Shoe on the other foot, I am causing them problems [by speaking out]. We are enemies and I let them know every day.”
On August 29, 2019, the BOP indicted King with a felony charge of “Assaulting a Federal Official” related to Lieutenant Wilcox’s alleged attack. If convicted, King faces up to 20 years in federal prison in addition to his 10-year sentence.
His partner Rae has meticulously documented BOP’s retaliation against their husband. “There wasn’t healing in the days prior to my surgery and there really hasn’t been time for healing since,” Rae told Truthout. “There isn’t space or time. I definitely have gone pretty downhill in the last year health-wise, but it’s really hard to even see that at this point because we are so wrapped up and every minute is spoken for.”
Although King never faced an easy time behind bars, his treatment has worsened over the past four years, Rae said, explaining that guards’ behavior shifted during Donald Trump’s campaign and after his election, once the right associated anti-fascists, or antifa, as threatening. “It was so surreal to watch these guards puff up, feel emboldened and know what team is theirs. As the fascists on the streets became angry, so did the ones who hold the keys,” they said.
Rae’s accusations aren’t unfounded. Jon Teeter, an SIS investigator at FCI Florence who Rae says is investigating King’s case, has publicly posted conspiracy theories about antifa on Facebook and has posted the Confederate flag as his cover photo, or background image, on his profile.
Moreover, corrections officers at FCI Florence who are Facebook friends with Teeter regularly post anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment from far right news sources, such as Breitbart and The Daily Caller.
In August 2019, King was transferred to FCI Englewood in Colorado, a prison with guards that threatened to assault his daughters after reviewing King’s personal journal that included anti-police drawings, according to the recent court filing. The filing states that King has been in solitary confinement for all but 48 hours since arriving at Englewood. In September, the prison revoked his partner Rae visitation rights and, in a written response, justified the denial because of Rae’s “ideology.” In order to get their visits back, the prison’s warden reportedly told King that Rae must agree not to attend protests, post on websites about the BOP, wear “political clothes” and be nice to the staff. Many months after their visits were restored, King’s support team continued to publicly post about his treatment inside BOP facilities. But the Warden’s protest ultimatum scared Rae, they said. They fear that if anyone protests across the street, they will lose visits again.
Not an Isolated Case
Many law enforcement officers across the country are similarly right-wing. In recent years, researchers have exposed thousands of police and/or correctional officers as sympathizing with fascism and white supremacy. Reveal News uncovered the associations between nearly 150 officers and far right groups like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters. The Intercept obtained a classified April 2015 FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide that warned of this phenomenon: “Domestic terrorism investigations focused on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers.”
In December 2019, at least 32 West Virginia state corrections academy cadets were fired for performing a Nazi salute in their final class picture. Vice News utilized leaked data from a neo-Nazi website that exposed a CoreCivic captain’s attempts to start a white supremacist group.
These sympathies and beliefs materialize into harm and violence within prison walls. In June 2017, prison staff watched and laughed as a white supremacist member of the Aryan Brotherhood stabbed four Black, handcuffed, incarcerated people. In December 2019, three San Joaquin County Sheriff’s correctional officers made racist comments while they beat, choked, kicked and tried to snap the neck of a 28-year-old arrested for public intoxication. In July 2019, two Salem County corrections officers alleged that their boss told one of them she was not being considered for a promotion because she “talked Black.”
In December 2000, the Southern Poverty Law Center released an intelligence report detailing allegations of racist guards in the corrections industry: “In at least six states, guards have appeared in mock Klan attire in recent years, and guards have been accused of race-based threats, beatings and even shootings in 10 states. In addition, the suits have been filed in at least 13 states by black guards alleging racist harassment or violence from their own colleagues,” according to the report. At the now-closed Tulsa County Jail in Oklahoma, Black incarcerated people were allegedly “forced into a cell known as the ‘Aryan Tank,’ where they were made to face down prisoners they later described as ‘white supremacists.’”
While Trumpism and right-wing media may have emboldened some guards against antifa and marginalized groups, institutional racism has long been built into the DNA of the carceral system. According to incarcerated activist and journalist Keith “Malik” Washington, targeting of specific prisoners is oftentimes sophisticated and systemic, “overt and pre-planned,” not random racist retribution. In a letter to Truthout, Washington described how his report on Tropical Storm Imelda caught the eye of Special Investigative Services — which he describes as “gang intelligence on steroids.”
Washington explained how SIS sets up hits against specific prisoners, including himself, promising the hitmen favors, such as release from solitary. He wrote, “The complex Warden at USP Beaumont [in Texas] was Larry Schults and it was obvious he instructed his subordinates to do all they could to restrict my outgoing and incoming mail as well as sabotage my re-entry plans. It was a horrible experience. What was remarkable is mostly all the actors were bigoted white males!”
SIS, according to Washington, performs and supervises specific tactics and strategies to make targeted prisoners’ lives miserable, many of which eerily mirror King’s story. According to Washington, other tactics include: “isolation — housing in solitary … ; obstruction of mail both incoming and outgoing; blocking media from contacted targeted prisoners; thwarting or sabotaging visits; housing targeted prisoners with violent, mentally ill or racist prisoners; bad jacketing (spreading false rumors about the targeted prisoner); degrading treatment such as constant strip searches or ‘losing’ personal property; attempts by guards to bait the targeted prisoners into verbal and physical altercations; and feigning ignorance when confronted with evidence of harassment and abuse.”
When Truthout contacted the Bureau of Prisons to offer it the opportunity to respond to these claims, it declined to comment on these allegations.
Washington noted that anti-imperialist federal prisoner Jaan Laaman was subjected to “a horrible campaign of harassment and repression by the BOP” for a statement Laaman wrote supporting International Women’s Day. “These ongoing attacks on anti-fascist and anti-racist prisoners like Jaan, Eric King, Sean Swain, myself, and more is part of a pattern and policy initiated by the Trump administration against those who exercise their Free Speech rights and who engage in political dissent,” Washington wrote. “If you take a survey from a diverse pool of anti-fascist and anti-racist prisoners — whether they be held in a federal or state facility, you will find that all of them have become targets.… The BOP uses these Special Housing Units to torture, hide, and abuse anti-fascist and anti-racists of all stripes!”
Likewise, Rae pointed out that fascists and right-wingers who have committed mass murder, such as Robert Deer, who murdered three and injured nine people at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado, are in general population at FCI Englewood, retaining calls, visits and sending emails, while King has been detained in administrative segregation.
“The reality is, our ideology is terrorism to the BOP,” Rae said. “They are telling us over and over what side they play for. We need to listen.”