Sunday, September 26, 2021

Tragedy and its Aftermath

Nineteen years ago today, John Gilbride was murdered. Sometime around 11 pm on September 26th, 2002 John pulled into the parking spot in front of his apartment in the Ryans Run apartment complex in Maple Shade, New Jersey. The rain was falling hard and he'd just finished a long day working at the Philadelphia airport. Before he could even turn off the engine or take off his seat belt he was shot multiple times in his face and chest at point-blank range with what was likely a semi-automatic with a silencer. For 19 years his family has waited for justice. 

Earlier this week, on September 20th, Charles Sims, known for most of his life as Chuck Africa, passed away after a long struggle with cancer. Chuck was released from prison in 2020 after serving over 41 years in prison for the death of police officer James Ramp and the wounding of other police and firefighters during the confrontation between MOVE and police on August 8th, 1978. MOVE was founded only 6 years earlier in 1972 by Chuck's uncle, Vincent Leaphart. Chuck was only 12 years old when he became involved with MOVE. 

Yesterday, Mike Africa Jr. and Mike and Debbie Davis (formerly Debbie Africa and Mike Africa Sr.) renounced MOVE in an article in the Guardian titled "Disenchanted Move members have quit the Black liberation group." All three former MOVE members acknowledge that cult dynamics within MOVE extend all the way back to the leadership of John Africa/Vincent Leaphart. 

Up until the publication of the Guardian article I planned to write a post exclusively dedicated to John Gilbride on this 19th anniversary of his murder. I'm a bit conflicted because I regret that his life, and who he was as an individual, are so often overshadowed by his time in MOVE and the circumstances of his murder. However, I'm committed to raising awareness about the circumstances that led to his murder, and feel that justice for John is inextricably linked with the subject of the article in the Guardian. For this reason, I've decided to dedicate this post to delving more deeply into my thoughts on the history of MOVE than I have in previous writings in the interest of trying to allow for as much reconciliation and redemption as is possible after so much tragedy. In the future, I hope to dedicate more time to writing specifically about John Gilbride as an individual and the tremendous loss that was suffered when his life was stolen 19 years ago. 

When I left MOVE intellectually in 2007 I immediately began researching the history of MOVE in order to understand what I had become involved in. I became a devout MOVE supporter in my teens and up until 2007, I had mostly only read MOVE-approved versions of MOVE's history. 

When my wife, Maiga, and I began communicating with June, Josh, and Whit in March of 2021 about the abuse they had suffered in MOVE I was shocked by what they had experienced. Their testimonies fit in with patterns that had been mentioned in documents and newspaper articles I'd read but had hoped were exaggerations. Since March I've been digging much more deeply and have also been able to access primary source MOVE documents, many of which had never previously been viewed outside of the inner circle of the group. I'll be linking to a few of them here and will be posting many more of them to this blog in the future. 

Understanding MOVE in this new context provides insight into why so much tragedy has followed in MOVE's wake. Hopefully, it will help those of us who dedicated so much of our lives to heal and to speak honestly about the tragedies that are still open wounds. 

My understanding is that the persona of John Africa was a co-creation of Vincent Leaphart and Donald Glassey when they founded MOVE in 1972. John Africa was a romanticized and caricatured version of Vincent Leaphart that took on a life of its own. As Glassey and Leaphart discussed and created MOVE's philosophy, the John Africa character took on increasingly mythic proportions until, eventually, John Africa and God were synonymous. 

In the beginning, MOVE shared many similarities with other radical organizations emerging at that time, but the religious nature of MOVE added a dimension that made them unorthodox, even amongst radical organizations of the early '70s. While MOVE's position has always been that Vincent Leaphart was all-knowing and that the strategy and philosophy of John Africa were always known by Leaphart, I believe that Leaphart and Glassey were making it up on the fly. When Leaphart, in his early 40s, began sending teenagers and people in their early-20s out to protest against the school boards, zoos, and leftist public intellectuals, I believe that he enjoyed and became addicted to the power that he felt in being obeyed in this way. 

As John Africa's/Leaphart's character received more religious devotion and loyalty he began to fully believe in his own mythology and became confident that MOVE could indeed defeat the system. Leaphart's conception of the system, however, was quite different than that of most revolutionary organizations. According to Leaphart, the system was everything humanity did that went against the natural world. This included cooking food, wearing clothes, and even speaking human languages. Leaphart's goal was not to overthrow the US government but to permanently destroy civilization and take humanity back to a state before our Homo Erectus ancestors harnessed fire, over a million years ago. Leaphart believed that the system was so evil that anything he needed to do to destroy it, including and especially lying, was morally justified. 

From 1972 to 1975 MOVE mainly held demonstrations, had conflicts with their Powelton Village neighbors, and spread the teachings of John Africa. The 1976 death of Life Africa is a turning point in MOVE's history as it provided justification for MOVE's increasing militancy. The death of Life Africa is an incredibly difficult subject but I've chosen to include it here because of the way that MOVE used the death of Life as a mandate to intensify their confrontation with police. Questioning MOVE's version of events is in no way intended to endorse Rizzo's police force, which was as racist and brutal as MOVE has claimed. This is a case of MOVE taking a just cause-protesting police brutality-  and exploiting it to advance an agenda that has everything to do with the whims of Vincent Leaphart and little to do with the cause. 

MOVE's claim has always been that three-week-old Life was murdered by police when police attacked MOVE members in front of MOVE headquarters. Life's mother, Janine Africa was knocked to the ground, and MOVE claims that police stomped on Life Africa, killing him. However, other stories about what happened to Life have always circulated within MOVE. In the interview that former MOVE member Valerie Brown gave in May of 1985, she stated that Life died of natural causes, and likely wouldn't have died had MOVE sought medical help. Instead, MOVE staged a confrontation with police and accused police of the murder of Life Africa in order to escalate tensions and advance their revolutionary platform. 

This is a pattern that continues throughout MOVE's history. I'm painting in very broad brush strokes here, and as this project continues I plan to post and analyze more documents. However, for the purposes of this post, I'll say that I believe that the events in MOVE's history that followed the death of Life Africa happened exactly as Vincent Leaphart intended them to happen. The intended result of the August 8th, 1978 confrontation was for MOVE members to go to prison for as long as possible and become martyrs for a cause that MOVE could mobilize others to rally around. There are many reasons to believe this, but one of the simplest is that Leaphart instructed the MOVE 9 to request a bench trial instead of a jury trial, nearly guaranteeing their conviction and the longest sentence possible. At this point, it has been publicly acknowledged by many MOVE members, including Mike Africa Jr., that current MOVE leaders, Ria and Bert, never intended for the MOVE 9 to be released from prison. I don't believe that Vincent Leaphart ever intended for them to come home either. 

The actions of MOVE members in this period cannot be understood without factoring in the messianic nature of the group, the true belief of MOVE members that John Africa was God, and that he had the power to overthrow the system and restore humanity to an Edenic state. Following the 1978 confrontation, Vincent Leaphart was put on trial in the Federal courts in a 1981 trial which MOVE refers to as "John Africa versus the System." The fact that Leaphart beat Federal authorities on bombmaking, weapons running, and conspiracy charges that would have landed him in prison for the rest of his life still seems nothing short of miraculous. This victory only increased MOVE members' faith in him and his own faith in his plan to overthrow the system. 

The absolute tragedy of the bombing of Osage Avenue and the deaths of the 11 people who perished in 6221 Osage Ave. is difficult to write about for a number of reasons. In speaking honestly about how I feel about the events of that day it's important to note that nothing I say about MOVE or about the intentions of Vincent Leaphart excuse police violence or the racism that is rampant in policing and the criminal justice system. However, I feel that for Zanetta, Katricia, Tomasso, Phil, and Delicia's (the children who were killed on Osage Ave.) lives to be honored we have to acknowledge that they were prisoners of MOVE and not MOVE members. Whit Sims was a child on Osage Ave. and has already spoken publicly about what it was like living in the basement of that house under the tyrrany of Vincent Leaphart. 

I firmly believe that Leaphart intended for every person inside of the house to perish on that day. By dropping the bomb the police were merely playing into his hand. This may seem far-fetched, but Leaphart believed that if he could get the police to kill MOVE people in front of the whole world, that it would trigger a global revolution, and that the remaining MOVE members would act as a vanguard to overthrow civilization itself. I'll be developing this idea more in the future. For now, I'll post two documents that I don't believe have previously been publicly available. This first document is a MOVE letter to the Osage residents from May of 1985 and explicitly states that MOVE planned to force the police to kill them. The second document was not passed out on Osage Ave in the weeks leading up to the bombing, like the previous document. This document is a MOVE letter about one of their hunger strikes. The letter explains MOVE's strategy to speed up their own deaths during hunger strikes in order to lay those deaths at the feet of the system. The two letters together show MOVE's pattern of creating tragedies to later exploit for greater credibility and justification for future actions. 

The tragedy of May 13th, 1985, and the death of John Africa left a power vacuum within MOVE that Leaphart's wife Alberta was eager to fill when she came home from prison in 1988. However, Alberta had two things that Leaphart didn't: the political mandate that MOVE was afforded due to May 13th and millions of dollars. As MOVE's new leader, Alberta was able to absorb much of the reverence and loyalty that had previously only been afforded to Leaphart. All of the parents who lost children on May 13th were incarcerated. When they won millions of dollars in a civil suit against the city Alberta was happy to take control of the trust to spend as she saw fit. 

This is the context in which June, Josh, Rain, Sara, Salina, and Maria were born (Whit was born under the leadership of Leaphart). This is also the context that John Gilbride was entering into when he became obsessed with MOVE as a teenager, and when he married Alberta in 1990. 

There are some encouraging aspects to the recent article in the Guardian. It's hopeful to me that Mike and Debbie Davis, and Mike Africa Jr. have publicly acknowledged that MOVE has always had cult tendencies (I would say that MOVE has always been a cult, but I'm trying not to put words into their mouths). However, there is so much that the article still gets wrong. For one, MOVE has never been a Black Liberation group. However, what I find most disconcerting is the downplaying of the testimonies of abuse by MOVE leadership and the near erasure of John Gilbride from the story. 

The article makes it seem as though the worst thing that happened within MOVE is that teenage girls (or 12-year-old girls in June's case) were forced to have sex, become pregnant, and give birth to children that MOVE leadership would have control over. This would be horrific enough but is far from the extent of the abuse. Josh has stated that young men in MOVE were forced to go to sex workers starting in their early teens in order to prove that they were not gay (homophobia is rampant in John Africa's teachings). The survivors have also stated that MOVE children are taught to perform sex acts on one another, starting as early as three or four years old and that the word for this within MOVE is "mooching." They have stated that MOVE leadership psychologically tortured them and that Alberta threatened to have June killed on many occasions, starting when she was only 13. 

The fact that Ed Pilkington of the Guardian references this blog as documenting the stories of the survivors of MOVE, but never bothered to reach out to me, June, Whit, Josh, Salina, Sara, Rain, or Maria is disconcerting, to say the least. The near-erasure of John Gilbride from the story is equally troubling. People continue to try to remove the murder of John Gilbride from MOVE's story, but it can't be done if you want to tell the story honestly. Mike Africa Jr. knew John well and, like me, participated heavily in the campaign against John and his family. Mike and Debbie both participated in the campaign against John from prison and I would hope that they have deep regrets about that. It's important that those regrets be publicly stated and accounted for. 

When we released the first "Leaving MOVE Group Statement" on July 2nd, 2021 we made the following requests: 

  • We’re also asking other current and former MOVE members to speak out about the real history of MOVE in order to protect June, Josh, Whit, and many others who have suffered as a result of being born into MOVE. We recognize that many MOVE members will be uncomfortable with inner circle knowledge being revealed publicly. However, continuing to promote the romanticized past of MOVE creates the conditions that allow for the ongoing suffering of many who were born into MOVE, as well as other victims of MOVE such as the Gilbride family. 

  • We are calling on MOVE members of good conscience to begin to tell the truth about MOVE history, including the events that led up to the 1978 and 1985 confrontations, the treatment of children, and any information related to the harassment and/or murder of John Gilbride. 

I understand how difficult it must be to speak about such painful history publicly. I understand that Mike Sr. was uncomfortable with aspects of MOVE even before the 1978 confrontation and he continued to stay in MOVE because he didn't want to lose his family. I empathize with that and I genuinely care deeply for Mike Sr. I'm very glad that I've had the opportunity to know him. I wish that he had not had to go through all that he has in order to get where he is today. However, if more people had been able to speak plainly about what was actually happening within MOVE in the early days then so many tragedies, including the 11 lives lost on May 13th could have been avoided. If people had spoken out against the corrupt leadership of Alberta earlier then John Gilbride would still be alive today.

Though I understand why saying this will make most people in movements that have supported MOVE uncomfortable, the survivors who were born into MOVE have clearly stated that they believe that Ria and Alberta should be in prison. June still does not feel safe coming out of hiding. Many of them still have nightmares about the things that were done to them and the things they were forced to do. It would be hard to overstate the psychological torture that was inflicted on them. There are still so many open wounds and so many truths that need to be told.

The survivors would like the first-generation MOVE members to explain what M1 really is. June's life was threatened numerous times by Alberta and she needs to know what kind of a threat M1 poses now. We know that former MOVE member William Whitney Smith died under suspicious conditions before he was supposed to testify against Vincent Leaphart in the Federal trial and that former MOVE member Ted Williamson died under similarly suspicious conditions after turning against the group and having his skull fractured by MOVE members beating him in the basement of the Poweleton Village headquarters. Is this a fate that June should be seriously concerned about? Was this the work of M1?

When 17-year old John Gilbride encountered MOVE through watching the tragedy of Osage Ave. on TV and began sneaking down to Philly to observe Ramona Africa's trial he didn't understand the context he was entering. When I became obsessed with MOVE through Mumia's writing and began taking trips up to Philly as a teenager I was similarly unaware. June, Josh, Whit, Sara, Maria, Salina, Rain and many others were born into these patterns that began with those first meetings between Glassey and Leaphart. The patterns that the survivors were courageous enough to shatter were nearly 50 years old. Thanks to their bravery and commitment to the truth it seems that much of the spell has broken. But where do we go from here? In order to continue this process of truth and reconciliation, it's necessary for more members, especially first-generation members to speak out. If more of MOVE's history is illuminated the survivors may feel safer moving on with their lives, and the Gilbride family may finally get the justice that they desperately deserve. 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Historical Document: MOVE Hunger Strike Letter to Media

This is a MOVE letter to the media from the early 1980s regarding a hunger strike by the MOVE women at SCI-Muncy. I'm posting this here to reference in a future post, but the document also stands alone. To my knowledge this document has never previously been publicly available. The end of the letter is of specific note as the letter acknowledges that the MOVE women were intentionally working to speed up their own deaths and placing blame on the media. The letter makes it seem like this was a choice made by the women at SCI-Muncy, but none of them would have done anything of this nature without orders from John Africa. To be clear, John Africa gave these women orders to speed up their own deaths in a hunger strike in order to protest the prison demanding that they consent to having blood taken. All of these women were in their early 30s and most of them had young children waiting for them to be released. Most of those children perished in the house on May 13th, 1985. Here's an exerpt from the end of the letter:


Historical Document: Letter to Osage Avenue Residents

This document was distributed by MOVE from their headquarters at 6221 Osage Ave. in the week leading up to the bombing on May 13th, 1985. I'm posting it to the blog now so that it can be referenced in a future blog post, but the document also stands on its own. To my knowledge, this is the first time this letter has been publicly available, and it flies in the face of the story that MOVE has been telling about itself since 1985. There's a lot that needs to be analyzed in this letter, but there's one line that's of specific note:


Statement from the German Network Against the Death Penalty and to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal

This week the German Network Against the Death Penalty and to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal released a statement in support of the survivors who were born in MOVE. The text can be read below, or here on their website. 

Leaving MOVE - Support for Victims of Sexual and Non-Sexual Abuse

With great distress, we've been following the numerous severe charges raised on the blog "Leaving MOVE" by many (primarily younger) former members of the MOVE organization. They concern a long time period and reveal systematic abuse of power, sexual assault, abusive behavior towards children and young people, and an enormous psychological group pressure which is described as brainwashing by those who were subjected to it.

We are shaken. It should never have happened that cult-like structures such as these remained undetected for decades. We want to express our unequivocal solidarity with all those affected. We believe them. We absolutely repudiate the behavior, described so impressively in many contributions to the blog, of the accused leading MOVE members.

We are shattered. As a solidarity movement for Mumia, we have also supported the "MOVE 9" for decades. In 1978, a house in Philadelphia inhabited by MOVE members was attacked by the police. While many shots were fired at the house and the basement was flooded with water to prevent anyone from hiding there, a policeman died in the crossfire. Even though the officer was probably accidentally killed by a colleague, nine MOVE women and men were put in jail for the killing of ONE policeman with ONE bullet. Their judge made the grotesque statement that since the nine regarded themselves as a family, he would also convict them as a family. Two MOVE members died in prison, while the other seven remained in prison for almost forty years.

Mumia Abu-Jamal was almost the only journalist in Philadelphia who reported about things like this by allowing the MOVE people to speak for themselves.

In 1985, the Philadelphia's police commissioner arranged for a bomb to be dropped on the house to which the organization had moved after 1978. Ten thousand live bullets were fired at the house. Both the MOVE house and all other houses of the block burned to the ground. MOVES's neighbors all became homeless and lost their belongings. The adults and children in the MOVE house lost their lives as they were incinerated alive. The only adult survivor - Ramona Africa - was incarcerated for seven years.

We always demanded the release of the MOVE prisoners. Their incarceration was unjust and will always be. Now we are horrified to learn the extent to which members of an organization which has itself repeatedly been the victim of extreme state violence have themselves become perpetrators.

All this causes perplexity and helplessness, and it hurts. Some of us feel reminded of our own experiences. Some of us have also known the enormous pressure to remain silent and to protect the perpetrators instead of being able to call for help.

Reading the blog "Leaving MOVE" indicates to us that there are also many people within MOVE who are no longer prepared to accept this state of affairs. Probably, there are also victims who are simultaneously perpetrators, as is the case everywhere in our society, which is characterized by patriarchal violence.

But it is clear to us that from now on, we will not only denounce the violent actions of the police against MOVE, but that we will also demand an honest accounting of all transgressions and abusive power relations within MOVE. To the victims of the systematic violence within MOVE, we want to express our heartfelt solidarity: Because not to feel alone and forsaken once one has dared to go the first step is of enormous and crucial importance.

Free Mumia - Free them ALL!
Fight Abuse and Power Structures Everywhere!
German Network Against the Death Penalty and to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Weaponization of a Movement

When John Gilbride left Alberta Africa in 1998 and filed for custody of their son, Zack, John wasn't just going up against Bert, he wasn't even just going against MOVE, he was also up against a massive amount of resources that Bert was able to tap into in the Free Mumia movement, as well as the deeply entrenched fear that authorities had of conflict with MOVE. It's important for me to point out here that I'm not writing this piece with the intention of discrediting the Free Mumia movement as I'm still very much in favor and support of Mumia's freedom. My purpose in writing this is to explore the ways that Alberta was able to use MOVE's credentials to exploit the movement for her own gain, and in doing so to examine the ways that movements are often susceptible to capture and influence by people with psychopathic, authoritarian, and narcissistic tendencies. 

I've said before that based on my experience in MOVE, and my study of other such groups, that I think these groups are often comprised of roughly 10% of membership with psychopathic tendencies, and 90% of membership consisting of people with people-pleasing and highly empathetic tendencies that make them easy targets for those seeking power. I think this is also largely true of political movements, and that Alberta viewed the Free Mumia movement as a resource for her own personal exploitation. In order to make this case, I need to give some specific examples of how Alberta did this, and doing so will require me to name certain individuals from the movement who were used in this way. My purpose here is not to shame these individuals, for I was used in a very similar manner, but to show how this happened. I'm doing this to demonstrate the nearly impossible odds that John was facing in his custody battle with Alberta, who we called Bert, but also because I think there are larger lessons to be learned here which I'll explore more at the end of this piece. 

When John left Bert in 1998 the Free Mumia was at its peak. Demonstrations were regularly occurring across the world calling for Mumia's release or for a new trial. Musicians like Rage Against the Machine, the Beastie Boys, Spearhead, and Public Enemy were speaking out on Mumia's behalf. Millions of people around the globe were rallying to his defense and pointing out the ways that the injustices in his case exemplified so much with what is wrong with the US criminal justice system. In the previous three years, Mumia had released his books "Live from Death Row" and "Death Blossoms" to critical acclaim, and the world was taking notice. 

Though many know Mumia as a former Black Panther, his primary point of self-identification at the time of his arrest in 1981 was as a MOVE supporter. In the years leading to his arrest, he had become enamored enough with the group to demand that John Africa act as his counsel at his 1982 trial. When Mumia was arrested and hospitalized on December 9th, 1981 John Africa sent Pam Africa (at that time still known as Jeanette) and a few other MOVE members to the hospital. On that night the first Mumia support group was founded by John Africa himself. Since that time Pam Africa has remained one of the key leaders of the Free Mumia movement and has become known internationally for her energizing speeches and tireless organizing. 

From my own personal experience with Alberta, she never seemed to care much about the Mumia movement, or any activist organizing at all. This is also supported by the testimonies of the survivors who have left MOVE. Some of them overheard Alberta say things such as "If you claim something is racist you can always gather a bunch of stupid people to do your bidding and protest on your behalf." I never heard her say it that directly, but that certainly fits with the ways I've heard her talk about activists. Alberta's attitude towards people who were actually on the ground doing the activist work that she benefitted from felt like the attitude of a corrupt king towards subjects for which he had disdain. 

Though Alberta was not typically involved in the radical organizing that MOVE was known for publicly, she certainly benefitted from it. Starting in late 1998 Ramona and Pam began discussing Alberta's custody case at speaking engagements for Mumia and the MOVE 9. This started slowly but as the intensity of the custody case increased so did the portrayal of John Gilbride as a government agent. By 2000 it was not uncommon for Pam or Ramona to mention John at a speaking event and the MOVE table often had a stack of flyers about the custody case. As I've mentioned before, Alberta framed John seeking custody of his son as an attempt to destroy not only MOVE but the Mumia movement as a whole. With this rationalization, it became appropriate to use the resources of the Mumia movement for her own personal defense. When I was staffing the office of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia full-time in the months leading up to John's murder we were using the office and all of its resources (copier, computers, etc) as much for Alberta's defense as for Mumia's. 

On September 7th "Murder at Ryan's Run" posted some pages from John's personal journals. I've posted one of those pages below. These pages demonstrate that at the height of the custody case Alberta left the country and took Zack with her to France without his father's permission or knowledge. Alberta and Zack were traveling with Ramona and Carlos Africa and were using a conference about Mumia's case as an excuse for their travel. From the page I posted below you can see that Bert and Zack were staying with Julia Wright (daughter of famed author Richard Wright, and renowned activist and intellect in her own right), a key figure in the French Free Mumia movement. It seems as though John had been trying to track Bert and Zack down for days and the only person he could reach was Julia Wright. 

From L to R: French MOVE/Mumia supporter, Claude Guillaumaud-Pujol, Ramona Africa, Ria Africa 

A page from John's notebook documenting his attempts to track down Alberta in France

Alberta made a few trips to France at that time, and regularly recruited help from people she had access to in the French Mumia movement. She stayed with Zack in the residences and countryside cottages of French Mumia supporters free of charge for extended periods of time. She cultivated especially close relationships with the French contingent. Whenever the French contingent traveled to Philly for Mumia events, Alberta and Ria provided banquet meals for them at MOVE headquarters. MOVE members spent days preparing for their arrival and they were always treated as honored guests. They were the only contingent that was treated with this much care and respect. When the custody case heated up and Alberta needed international phone calls of support she relied on them heavily. 

In episodes 8 and 9 of "Murder at Ryan's Run" we learn about the involvement of Dr. Suzanne Ross in the custody case and in public relations in defense of MOVE. Dr. Ross is a crucial figure in the Free Mumia movement, spent years heading up the New York Coalition to Free Mumia, and has worked very closely with Pam Africa for decades. Dr. Ross is also a respected clinical psychologist and acted as an expert witness for Alberta in the custody case. I've posted a few pages from her testimony below but the entire testimony (beginning on page 404) is available to read. The whole trial transcript is worthy of a great deal more examination. Dr. Ross's testimony is likely the most important testimony of the trial because she's the only non-MOVE member (or very close supporter, like Gary Wonderlin) to testify on Alberta's behalf, and did so as an expert witness. Dr. Ross even gave quotes to newspaper articles in MOVE's defense. I've posted part of one article below, but the whole article can be found here.

In the article, Dr. Ross states: "I guarantee that the children there (in the MOVE house) are very much loved, protected, cared for, and taught values and skills." Meanwhile, at the exact time that this was being stated, Pixie Africa (now June Stokes) had just turned 13, was pregnant, and had been forced by Alberta and Ria to become pregnant at 12, was in the house, and would soon be threatened with death by Alberta. At the trial, Dr. Ross testified that she was not a MOVE supporter, acted like she hardly knew Pam and Ramona Africa, and significantly downplayed her major involvement in the Free Mumia movement. Dr. Ross' testimony carried a lot of weight and had her history with MOVE been understood I doubt that her testimony would have been admitted at all. 

In Episode 7 of "Murder at Ryan's Run" we learned that Alberta intimidated John's attorney, Sheryl Rentz into not calling Andino Ward, father of Birdie Africa, to testify. If Andino had been allowed to testify to his experience of having his son stolen by MOVE, as well as the child abuse within MOVE that he learned about from Birdie, then it's possible that John would have ended up winning full custody of Zack. Threatening Rentz into withholding Ward's testimony and utilizing Dr. Ross certainly secured Bert's custody win. Dr. Ross made many claims to Bert's benefit; among them, that childhood in MOVE is safe and loving. By extension, that Bert was a caring mother. The recent testimony of MOVE survivors who either experienced some level of guardianship by Bert or had their own parents undermined by Bert and Bert's decisions enacted upon them demonstrate her vicious abuse.

This is not meant as a personal attack on Dr. Ross but deserves exploration because her testimony was a pivotal moment in the custody case which I believe led directly to John's murder. I also take a much larger lesson from this, which is that no one, regardless of their movement credentials, is worthy of unquestioning loyalty. Alberta is the type of person you cannot say no to, who has the ability to reward those who cooperate. I have no doubt that Dr. Ross felt a great deal of pressure to comply with Alberta's request. This is one of many, many examples of Alberta using her role as the leader of MOVE to exploit people from the Mumia movement. I hope that the way that Alberta and Ria used MOVE's radical credentials to serve their own ends will become a case study within other movements so that people can protect themselves from similar abuse going further. Hopefully, more people who were used in this way by Alberta and Ria will feel comfortable coming forward so that there can be transparency, justice for the survivors, and justice for the Gilbride family. 

I hope that those reading can see that this is not meant to shame the activists involved. We need to acknowledge our own history. Bert used classic abuse tactics. Her carrot was access to the elite inner circle of MOVE, special banquets, and desired attention. Her stick was the threat of exile from the movement or shame. Apart from the fear of reprisal, shame has kept so many people from telling the truth about our own history of abuse or manipulation within MOVE. We're ashamed of our own actions, where we misjudged situations, and can't quite explain these events to ourselves in our 2021 consciousness. If we want to build movements going forward with interpersonal transparency and freedom to dissent then we have to be willing to own our own humanity by reckoning with the truth. 


Saturday, September 18, 2021

Part 3 (and 1 and 2) - Kevin Price Interviewed by "Failed State Update" Podcast

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Joseph Flatley for the "Failed State Update" podcast. You can find that first episode here. That interview covered a lot of ground but primarily focused on my understanding of the early history of MOVE based on my years of experience in MOVE, as well as years of research. For those who are trying to understand MOVE's history in the context of the past months of revelations, this would be a good place to start. 

Last week we recorded the second episode which you'll find here. This episode focuses on the events that led up to the atrocity of May 13th, 1985. This is a very sensitive subject and I try hard to handle it with the care and complexity that it deserves. I know that my interpretation of those events is markedly different than the version that MOVE has told, but my conclusions are well supported. My primary reason for wanting to set the record straight about May 13th is my belief that MOVE has been cynically exploiting the deaths of Delisha, Katricia, Zanetta, Phil, and Tomaso (the children who died in the house) for far too long, and I believe that their stories deserve to be told. 

This week we recorded episode three which you can find here. This episode covers how I became involved in MOVE, John Gilbride - the campaign against him and his murder, and the survivors of MOVE and how they can be supported. I wish we had had more time to get into the details about the survivors and how they can be supported. I'm grateful to Joseph Flatley for taking the time to have such an in-depth conversation. 


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Invention of John Africa

Today's episode of "Murder at Ryan's Run"  touches on the foundation of MOVE in 1972. There's been so much packed into the last few episodes of the podcast and I'll continue to unpack as much as I can here, but that part of the podcast inspired me to go into a bit more detail about my thoughts on the creation of MOVE, specifically the invention of the John Africa mythos; the transformation of the man pictured below into God incarnate. 

Vincent Leaphart, the man who would become John Africa

In the past few years, I've been able to study some primary source documents from the early days of MOVE which have helped me to understand how MOVE came to be, and how Vincent Leaphart made the transition from an eccentric man in his early 40s to an all-knowing sage whose existence precedes time itself. Eventually, I'll be posting and analyzing many more of these documents here. 

My current understanding is that the John Africa mythos was a co-creation of Vincent Leaphart and Donald Glassey, a grad student and social worker who was in his early 20s when MOVE was founded. I believe that Leaphart, left to his own devices, may have continued to be an eccentric guy who cared for a lot of stray dogs, and Glassey, left to his own devices, may have continued with leftist activism and potentially less dangerous forms of trying to create a utopia in his own image. The combination of Glassey and Leaphart created the dynamic that birthed MOVE. 

Donald Glassey, the co-founder of MOVE

As MOVE's philosophy developed Vincent Leaphart slowly morphed into Vinnie Africa, then to John Vincent Africa, and finally to JOHN AFRICA (as his name is written by MOVE). John Africa was the perfect human, the only person alive who was fully instinctual. He was also God. In order for John Africa to increase, Vincent had to decrease. Looking through very early MOVE documents this transformation is visible. Leaphart's sister, Louise James, viewed her brother Vincent and John Africa as two different beings. In her book, from the way she describes their relationship it sounds like she viewed her brother as channeling John Africa. In Louise's view her brother Vinnie was not a perfect being, he was the person who was most able to channel this perfect being. However, this is not the MOVE orthodoxy. MOVE's orthodoxy is that Leaphart was always John Africa, was always perfect, and that he had always been able to articulate MOVE's perfectly formed philosophy. 

There's so much to dig into on this subject, but for this post I'll focus on introducing one specific MOVE document which I've posted below. To my knowledge, this is the first time this document has been available for anyone outside of the inner circle of MOVE to view. This document appears to be from around the time of the trial of the MOVE 9, 1980. The purpose of the document is to instruct MOVE members on how to create an air of mystique around John Africa in order to attract more followers. It's almost like an insider's guide to MOVE's branding strategy. I've posted four pages of the document below and have made notes under some of the pages. I recognize many of the strategies that are listed in the document as they are the very same strategies that pulled me into MOVE in the late '90s.

John Africa, after winning the Federal trial in 1981

Within MOVE, anything good within a MOVE member is always credited to John Africa, even if they had that attribute before they became a MOVE member. 

At the top of this page the strategy is explicity laid out of not directly referring to John Africa as God, even though that is what is believed, but strongly implying it. This is done to allow people to accept what is being said without setting off all of the alarm bells that the more clear declaration would set off. 

The testimonials suggested on this page are the exact testimonials that are being given to this very day. The suggestion to claim that John Africa predicted certain events is a common strategy. Within MOVE this claim is often made and when the prophecy fails the prediction is retroactively changed. MOVE consistently claimed, for years, that John Africa predicted that no Philadelphia sports team would win any championship until the MOVE 9 were freed. When the Phillies won the World Series in 2008 this prophecy was changed and MOVE members began saying that the Phillies won in order to draw attention to Philadelphia and, thus, the MOVE 9 (it did not).  


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Part 2- Kevin Price interviewed by "Failed State Update" podcast

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Joseph Flatley for the "Failed State Update" podcast. You can find that first episode here. That interview covered a lot of ground but primarily focused on my understanding of the early history of MOVE based on my years of experience in MOVE, as well as years of research. For those who are trying to understand MOVE's history in the context of the past months of revelations, this would be a good place to start. 

Last week we recorded the second episode which you'll find here. This episode focuses on the events that led up to the atrocity of May 13th, 1985. This is a very sensitive subject and I try hard to handle it with the care and complexity that it deserves. I know that my interpretation of those events is markedly different than the version that MOVE has told, but my conclusions are well supported. My primary reason for wanting to set the record straight about May 13th is my belief that MOVE has been cynically exploiting the deaths of Delisha, Katricia, Zanetta, Phil, and Tomaso (the children who died in the house) for far too long, and I believe that their stories deserve to be told. 

We'll be recording the third, and final episode, this week. It will focus on how I became involved in MOVE, John Gilbride - the campaign against him and his murder, and the survivors of MOVE and how they can be supported. 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

John Gilbride and the Children Born in MOVE

When the "Murder at Ryan's Run" podcast launched, many people wondered what the connection was between the survivors leaving MOVE and the murder of John Gilbride. As the podcast has proceeded, and as I've continued to elaborate on these connections on this blog, I hope that it's become more clear. However, I still receive the question a fair amount so it seems worthwhile to expand on these points a bit. This week's episode of "Murder at Ryan's Run" contains some disturbing facts that illustrate the relationship between Gilbride’s murder and the survivors well.

Roughly six minutes into this episode former MOVE members, Josh Robbins and Whit Sims, explain that part of Bert's strategy for beating John in the custody case, and in continuing the abuse that she inflicted during their marriage, was to set Josh (who was 10 at the time) and June (who was 12) up to jump John. She instructed them to jump on his back and to scratch his eyes out and assured them that they wouldn't do any jail time because they were minors. 

Josh and June had both know John since they were born. He had always been kind to them and they cared for him. Ria and Alberta worked hard to try to turn all of the children against John by claiming that he'd always been a government agent and that he actually wanted to kill them all. As if that wasn't enough psychological torture, she was now telling these two children that they had to scratch out the eyes of a man they had liked, one of the few adults who was always kind to them. If the situation had presented itself where Alberta had deemed this action necessary and June and Josh had not followed through then they would have been in very serious trouble and would have been ostracized and isolated. 

One of the key things that connect John Gilbride and the children who were born in MOVE is that they were all expendable pawns in the eyes of Ria and Alberta. Alberta did not care at all about the damage that she did to those children as long as they were working to serve her agenda. Based on everything I've seen I don't believe that Alberta ever cared for or about John at all. I'm not sure if she's capable of empathy or care for others, though she is incredibly good at pretending. 

When John started writing to the women at SCI-Muncy as a teenager I believe that she saw him as a mark right away. John was 20 years younger than Alberta and she knew she could use his desire for justice to manipulate him to do just about anything she wanted. John was able to provide her with the white child that she wanted as her heir. He worked around the clock to pay for her medical bills from In Vitro fertilization and other costs from Alberta's exorbitant lifestyle. By the time John left, Alberta had taken all she wanted from him anyway and she had no use for him anymore. This is exactly how Alberta still treats her current husband, Gary Wonderlin. 

John and Zack in the summer of 1996

Alberta used the children in MOVE much the same way; having them clean her house, do her landscaping, and still make large donations, though they were struggling financially themselves. Alberta demanded that the young men in MOVE be more loyal to her than their own wives. Alberta and Ria forced all of the second-generation MOVE members into marriages as young teenagers and forced the young men to go to sex workers and report all of the details to Ria. More rebellious second-generation MOVE members like June were threatened with death by Alberta on many occasions, at some points going so far as to tell June that if she didn't watch it she would end up like John. 

In John's situation and that of the children born in MOVE, it is clear that every adult MOVE member knew what was going on and no one did anything to put a stop to it. If you read the trial transcripts from the custody case it's obvious that all of the testifying MOVE members were following a well-rehearsed party line. They knew that what Alberta was saying about John being an abuser was nonsense, but they went along with it anyway. When John was murdered and Alberta claimed that he was still alive but he had also been killed by the government and the mob, everyone in MOVE knew that it was crazy, but no one called her on it. This is because it has always been MOVE's policy that people who go against the organization are fair game, this didn't start with Alberta. The same goes for the abuse of MOVE children. The kind of sexual and psychological abuse in MOVE did not start with Alberta, it goes all the way back to MOVE's foundation in 1972, and that's why no one called anyone out on it. It was completely encultured into the group and thus deemed as acceptable. 

John's escape from MOVE in 1998 has some striking similarities to June's escape this past July. One major difference is that June made it out with her kids and John did not. John spent the rest of his life trying to protect his son but when he tried to explain to people what MOVE actually is no one would listen. This is the exact situation that the survivors who were born into MOVE faced. MOVE has been so good at crafting their narrative and protecting their image that it's been very difficult to convince people to look deeper. The political mandate that MOVE has as a result of May 13th,1985, and the fact that no one would listen, was what allowed John Gilbride to be murdered 19 years ago with so little outcry or investigation. As June is still in hiding and John's murder has still not been solved I hope that more people are listening now. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

How We Organize

This post is by Maiga Milbourne

In Philly, MOVE has been central to leftist organizing. It’s unlikely that you went to a demo or program without seeing a MOVE member or supporter. And there are still MOVE people doing activist organizing. 

Kevin and I have heard from a few different organizers asking us our perspective on how to handle organizing with MOVE going forward. I don’t want to speak for Kevin and I want to be very clear that I am only speaking for myself-- not the MOVE survivors or any collective or anything like that. Just me. Maiga Milbourne. My limited perspective. 

I think we should keep doing good work and we keep survivors and others who have been victims of MOVE (like the Gilbride family) centered.

Kevin and I have tried hard not to become de facto arbiters of these decisions. We don’t know the various organizations and individuals who are engaged in projects with MOVE as an organization or individuals within it. We don’t know the implications and histories that affect these decisions. As fellow activists, we trust you all to investigate your own ethics and make decisions that align with your missions and goals.

And we trust that you can do that without obscuring the survivors.

I’ve heard of really great decisions that people are making-- doing Mumia support work but getting clear on mutual decision making so that there isn’t covert enabling of MOVE. When a group that published some books that included the history of MOVE approached Kevin about whether or not to continue, Kevin’s thought was why not add a sticker in the publications that links to these allegations. That way, MOVE’s version of their history is still told along with the whole story, which includes the survivors. A longtime organizer who manages a venue asked about whether or not to host MOVE going forward. My personal thought is that if people are doing good work, allow the good work, but make sure that everyone knows about the survivors, especially right now when June is still in hiding and there are still minors in MOVE.

In early August BlackStar held their annual film festival. My feed was full of activists celebrating this beloved event. And, there was a panel on family repair that included Mike Africa Sr, Debbie Africa, Mike Africa Jr. I know of activists who alerted the festival founders about the allegations of abuse within MOVE. I looked on the site on the premiere date and didn’t see any acknowledgment of the abuse (I recognize that I might not have seen it-- but about 20 minutes navigating the main pages both on their site and Facebook, including this event specifically, yielded nothing obvious). 

I later learned that a few statements did go up-- one that was lukewarm (in my opinion) and a statement that was listed on the site at the time of the event Friday night that centered Mike Sr, Debbie, and Mike Jr “as survivors themselves” and a lot else that was significantly troubling given the active, current danger and harm to those speaking out against MOVE in this moment. 

I want to take a moment to acknowledge that obviously Mike Jr, Debbie, and Mike Sr are survivors. Mike Sr and Debbie both served 40 years in prison. Mike Jr was born in prison, separated from his parents, among other harms suffered. 

In this context, they’re using the term “survivor” to align with the currently recognized MOVE survivors— at this moment, publicly: June, Michelle-Whit, Josh, Sara, Salina, Maria, and Rain— who have taken a huge public stand at tremendous personal risk. While I don’t at all pretend that this current period is easy for anyone affiliated with MOVE, to date, Mike Jr, Debbie, and Mike Sr have not spoken as transparently as the named survivors, they haven’t put as much on the line, and they haven’t taken responsibility for their complicity through silence and beyond.

To return to the BlackStar film festival and the workshop including Mike Jr, Debbie, and Mike Sr, by midday Saturday, you could no longer watch footage from the panel so I don’t know what was said nor if the abuse was acknowledged. 

I know BlackStar is a vibrant, valuable organization. I’m singling out this event because it happened recently and it’s an example, to me, of a situation that should have been handled with more depth and complexity. Many of the survivors do not feel that those who were on the panel have been transparent about accounting for their own role in allowing the abuse within MOVE to continue for decades, or that they have been clear in explaining how things like the terror campaign against John Gilbride were allowed and participated in by every first-generation MOVE member. 

I originally wrote this piece right after the BlackStar film festival. A lot has happened in the intervening time— WURD has hosted survivors, the Inquirer printed a front-page story on their journey, and the activist group Food Not Bombs Solidarity (FNBS) posted a statement no longer endorsing MOVE due to lack of accountability or response from leadership. I was truly impressed by the action from FNBS and grateful that their words demonstrated an understanding of the burden of survivorship and the responsibility of being accountable. In the context of this piece, I want to acknowledge their clear ownership of their involvement with MOVE and their stance to no longer endorse a group that will not account for its own wrongdoing. Thank you, FNBS.

So that’s my feeling. Pam is a tremendous organizer and Mumia is not yet free. Personally, I believe we should work alongside her for his freedom. And, I also want Pam to publicly disclose what she knows about abuses within MOVE so that those abuses cannot continue and that there is justice for survivors. I want her to publicly acknowledge and reconcile her active role in the war against John Gilbride and his family. Mike Jr and his parents have aspirations to continue doing organizing work. They should do good work. And first and foremost, they should support the survivors by telling the truth themselves. Every adult in MOVE knew a lot more than most of them are acknowledging. Every adult knowingly took part in the campaign against John Gilbride despite knowing that Alberta was waging a war against him based on lies. All of these things need to be acknowledged in order for there to be the kind of healing that allows people to do the work that they are doing with any degree of integrity. 

We need a new model of organizing, one that doesn’t shield offenders. We need a new model of transparency that acknowledges all of our humanity and capacity for wrong. That’s the only way we make ourselves safe. 

Maiga Milbourne was a dedicated MOVE supporter from 2002-2018. She distanced herself from the group as she began to note troubling patterns within MOVE. In 2021, June Stokes AKA Pixie Africa disclosed severe abuse suffered within MOVE. Together with Maiga’s husband Kevin Price, “Murder at Ryan’s Run” podcast producer Beth McNamara, podcast researcher Bob Helms, and former MOVE members Josh and Whit Robbins, a plan was crafted where June publicly left MOVE with her 5 children and went into hiding. Publicity from both the podcast and this blog has been used to keep her and her children safe.