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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 68/No. 35September 28, 2004

lead article
Protest firebombings of socialist
campaign hall, café in Pennsylvania
Unionists, Black community leaders, others: prosecute arsonists!
Militant photos by Marty Ressler (left) and Brian Taylor (right)
SWP campaign hall in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, after being fire bombed the morning of September 11 (right). White House Café manager Bob Harris, on left, shows SWP candidates Arrin Hawkins and Tim Mailhot damage from arson attack on his bar in Wilkes-Barre Black community (left).

HAZLETON, Pennsylvania—“We are calling on the mayor and the police to arrest those responsible for this firebombing and prosecute them to the full extent of the law,” said Tim Mailhot, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 11th C.D., in opening a September 13 news conference to protest the arson attack on the party’s campaign center here.

“We are sending a message that we will not be intimidated by this attack. We call on others in the area to join us in beating back attacks like this designed to prevent those who express views dissenting from the parties of the employers—the Democrats and Republicans—from participating in politics.”

The arson attack on the SWP’s northeast Pennsylvania campaign hall took place in the early morning hours of September 11. At about the same time, arsonists set fire to the back of the White House Café, a restaurant and tavern patronized by Blacks in nearby Wilkes-Barre.

Mailhot said that SWP campaigners are stepping up activities locally and across the state. This includes a several-day tour in the area by SWP vice-presidential candidate Arrin Hawkins, who changed her schedule to campaign here. In addition to presenting the main demands on the party’s platform, socialists are getting out the facts about the arson attacks on the SWP campaign hall and the White House Café.

Several prominent local individuals are already circulating a statement asking others to send protest messages to Hazleton mayor Louis Barletta to take all possible steps to arrest and prosecute those responsible for the attack.

Signers include Kassie Harding, president of UNITE HERE Local 133-1, which organizes workers at the nearby Hollander Home Fashions garment plant; Anna Arias from the Pennsylvania Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs; Douglas McKeeby, pastor of the Trinity Lutheran Church; Monsignor Michael Delaney of St. Gabriel’s Church; Beverly Collins, an activist in the Black community in Wilkes-Barre; and Walter Howard, a history professor at Bloomsburg University.

“Those who carry out attacks like this are emboldened by the political climate in this country today,” Hawkins told the media at the September 13 news conference. “The assaults on the wages, living standards, and rights of working people by the employers and the government, and by the twin parties of capitalism—the Democrats and Republicans, have deepened class polarization and increased the coarseness of bourgeois politics. Viciousness, slander, and innuendo—not civil discourse—have marked the election contest between John Kerry and George Bush. Rightists get wind in their sails to lash out violently because of this.”

At the widely attended news conference the socialist candidates described how the arson attack took place. A brick with incendiary material attached to it in a plastic bag was thrown through the window of the campaign office. An alert neighbor, who lives across the street, saw the fire burning about 4:30 a.m. and called the fire department, which put out the blaze. The fire badly damaged the front of the hall and burned campaign literature, a number of books, and leaflets publicizing upcoming events. Smoke filled the premises. As a result, the many books that line the shelves of the hall are unusable.

The neighbor’s action helped prevent the attack from destroying the entire building where the SWP campaign hall is located, including the apartment upstairs where two families were sleeping.

The campaign office is a well-known political center in Hazleton, which is used to organize support for the SWP ticket of Róger Calero for U.S. president and his running mate, Arrin Hawkins; Brian Taylor for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania; Tim Mailhot; and Kristofer Barkanic for Pennsylvania state house of representatives in the 116th District.

Taylor joined Mailhot and Hawkins at the news conference. Also speaking were pastors Delaney and McKeeby. Delaney spoke on behalf of the Human Relations Coalition for Unity.

“We support our friends’ ability to present their views free of intimidation,” Delaney said, adding that he joined with other religious leaders here in “denouncing and rejecting violence in all parts of the country.”

“This is an attack on the rights of working people to think and act,” said Brian Taylor. “It is aimed at intimidating anyone who wishes to speak out in defense of the working class.” Noting that books had been burned in the attack, Taylor stated, “Political ideas like those found in these books are increasingly important to the working class as we strive to understand the workings of the capitalist system, how to effectively resist the employers’ attacks, and the lessons past generations have learned through revolutionary struggle.”  
Wilkes-Barre arson
Four local television stations covered the press conference, as did reporters for the Hazleton Standard-Speaker and El Mensajero, a local Spanish-language weekly. A front-page article in the September 14 Standard-Speaker by Kent Jackson was headlined, “Fire damages Socialist Workers’ base: Candidates from the party called on the public to condemn the suspected arson attack against their headquarters on Wyoming Street in Hazleton.”

One television station followed its coverage of the attack on the SWP campaign hall with footage of the arson attack on a bar managed by African-Americans in nearby Wilkes-Barre the same night as the attack in Hazleton. In that attack, boxes and paper were ignited behind the White House Café. The fire damaged a garage and the stairs to the apartments above, making it impossible for the residents to occupy them.

The Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice reported that cops have arrested Michael Boyle, 23, and charged him with carrying out that assault, as well as arson attacks on two houses in the Black community. He was reportedly caught in the act while trying to set fire to a third house. The Voice said that Boyle confessed to the actions, stating that he hated African-Americans.

On September 14, Mailhot, Barkanic, and other SWP campaign supporters visited the White House Café to speak to the workers there and offer them their solidarity. The next day café manager Bob Harris showed Arrin Hawkins and other SWP campaigners the damage caused by the blaze (see front-page photo).  
Steady stream of visitors
“In the days since the attack on the SWP campaign office, especially in the hours before the afternoon press conference was held, a steady stream of visitors came into the campaign office to inspect the damage and express their solidarity,” Mailhot said. “A handful made donations to rebuild the office and some purchased subscriptions to the campaign newspapers, the Militant and Perspectiva Mundial.” Many of the visitors, he said, are workers employed at the nearby EXCEL meatpacking plant.

“We don’t like this, because this is the most important store on the street,” said one packinghouse worker, as he inspected the damage.

One man who came in said he is a local businessman and a “lifetime Republican, but this cannot be tolerated.”

During the day on September 11, following the attack, SWP campaign organizers here went ahead with a planned barbeque fund-raiser, which was attended by half a dozen EXCEL workers and family members. Campaign supporters have staffed a regular campaign table outside the office in the days since the firebombing.

A local restaurant owner donated the use of his premises across the street so that a scheduled campaign meeting featuring Brian Taylor could take place September 12.

Meanwhile, teams of volunteers began cleaning the walls and floors, which have been badly damaged by smoke.

“Funds are needed immediately,” said Mailhot. “We have launched a special Campaign Hall Rebuilding Fund and set a goal of raising $3,500. We need your help to purchase wood, sheet rock, and paint to reconstruct the destroyed display area, and replace damaged office equipment and the entire stock of books that the smoke rendered useless.”  
What you can do to help:
  • Please send a message to the Mayor Hazleton Louis Barletta, 40 N. Church Street, Hazleton, PA 18201, phone: (570) 459-4910; fax: (570) 459-4966 urging that all possible steps be taken to rapidly apprehend those responsible for the arson attack and to prosecute them to the full extent of the law. Please send copies to the Socialist Workers Campaign, 69 N. Wyoming Street, Hazelton, PA 18201 (E-mail: swpnepa@localnet.com).
  • Send a much needed contribution to the 2004 Socialist Workers Campaign, earmarked for rebuilding the fire-damaged campaign office. The funds will go to meet the $3,500 in expenses necessary to purchase construction materials, office equipment, and books damaged in the September 11 fire.
Speak out in defense of political rights

Protest the September 11, 2004 arson attack on the Socialist Workers 2004 campaign headquarters in Hazleton, PA. Defend the right to participate in politics through civil discourse—free of harassment, intimidation, and violence.

Saturday, September 18, 7:30 P.M.

SWP Campaign office
69 N. Wyoming, Hazleton, PA

Initial Speakers: Rev. Douglas McKeeby, Trinity Lutheran Church, Hazleton; Greg O’Connell, Attorney, Scranton; Arrin Hawkins, Socialist Workers Candidate for vice president

Related articles:
Protest arson attacks in Pennsylvania

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