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In 1987, after he had been selling drugs in the Joke for the Dark Reds for two and a half years, Herbert Le Beth's son was abducted on a cold November night and buried alive. Charles had been standing in the alley behind the Worship Center, waiting for Stevie Shine, an eighteen year old high school dropout like himself who had told Charles, a.k.a. C-Loud, to meet him there at around 10 o'clock so they could go get pizza at Maritino's in Gray Hill. Suddenly a large hand clamped around Charles's eyes and he was pinned against the jagged bricks on the side of the building, then forced down on his knees as his arms were held back. Someone told him not to open his eyes or he was dead, and when the hand retreated a blindfold made from a thick twist of newsprint replaced it within two seconds. It sounded to Charles like there were three people around him; he was restrained and rendered helpless by two of them. He was told not to make a sound and to walk the way they directed him. Charles was almost certain he would be killed. They forced him down the alley and into a waiting car. He was squeezed between two men as the car pulled away. They told him it was just a mile ride to where they were going and if he kept totally quiet they might not kill him after all. Charles did not believe the voice which made this promise for a second, but he realized there was nothing he could do. He wondered on a barely conscious level who wanted him dead. He himself had never killed anyone, though he had offered to go on two separate hits against the Water Street Dracs. KayLay Bateman had told him that any of the Dark Reds could be killed at any time since the head of the Water Street Dracs was the most reckless, most ruthless king the Dracs had ever known. That man's name was Derrick Wellbright, and he would be shot dead by his own wife just two years later during a vicious domestic argument.
Charles Le Beth was taken out of the car he never saw and his arms were tied around his back. Still he was silent. Begging was unthinkable, crying only slightly less so. The voice he had heard all along told him to walk forward; after ten steps the man shouted, "Stop!" Then he said, "Jump down three feet." Charles did so, giving himself up to a quick blind descent, and when his feet struck solid ground he fell over, just as they had wanted him to. His ankle jammed and his neck connected with something hard and the pain was sharp and deep. Someone else spoke for the first time then: a male voice said, "Bye bye, little boy," and the heavy lid of the broken Amana meat freezer Charles had fallen into was slammed shut, striking his head, sealing him in. His captors kicked dirt over it and one of them threw some beer cans onto the lid. Charles heard them make contact even as he maneuvered onto his back and kicked against the lid, nearly choking on the fetid air inside the hollowed-out freezer. The smell was like vegetables gone bad, but it was the sounds from above that snapped Charles's mind far quicker.
He began to scream, his mind banished to a place where there could be no possible considerations of pride, honor, or even logic. The blank, primeval terror of being locked in, buried alive, erased whatever Charles Le Beth was and replaced him with a bestial shadow which knew only that it was trapped and death was closing in. Charles kicked and beat at the lid of the freezer, his vocal chords torn raw by his screaming, two of his fingers breaking within seconds. After approximately a minute and a half of this surreal hell, during which the sound of dirt hitting the freezer never ceased, the lid was suddenly opened. Charles continued to kick and thrash for almost five more seconds, his sanity completely broken, before he tried to get to his feet, fell again due to his mild concussion and extreme disorientation, and was then lifted out. When his blindfold was removed he saw his brothers, his friends in the Dark Reds, and his initiation into the upper ranks was over. Not for a second had it occurred to Charles that his time had finally come and that his abduction might have been nothing more than the harsh test they'd created for him; it had all been too swift and too horrific, and when he saw Bloodless, Hector High, and A.Okay standing there, not laughing as they thought they might do, but stunned into silence by C-Loud's reaction and condition, he felt only murder in his heart. They took him to the emergency room and his hands were bandaged. He nodded at their apologies, said he understood that he was in now, he was working his way to the crown, he would be all right, and he was grateful, in the morning they'd go to IHOP and finally laugh like hell, but he was not all right, and he never would be again.
Ashamed at the way he had gone soft and hating himself for the way his hands kept shaking in the following days, Charles isolated himself from everyone as much as he could, though his new responsibilities with the Reds kept him busy. A horrible insomnia set in, making him unable to sleep more than three hours a night. He could not remember the dreams he had during this time except for the smell of rotten vegetables, which was almost always the last thing he sensed when he woke up. His days were spent selling crack cocaine and occasionally illegal painkillers, and he was beginning for the first time to have some control over the finances of the gang's communal holdings. In addition he had assigned two unders to start up an "Office of Information"; in other words, to take Dark Red graffiti out into Point Unity to make sure the writing on the buildings there showed who owned the area. Charles's nights were lonely and strange, spent drifting in and out of consciousness, sinking deeper and deeper into a depression that would never be diagnosed. After two months of his new and more intense role with the Dark Reds, he developed gnawing pains in his stomach whenever he went out on the street in the morning. On January 21 he walked into the Greyhound bus station on South Illinois Street and bought a ticket for Chicago. He had a little less than a thousand dollars to his name. He did not plan to ever return.
His father Herbert learned of all this only at age 77, twenty-one years after his son's death. He was told the story as he sat in a small walk-up apartment in east Indianapolis owned by Garrett Lorne, known in local art circles, and across the nation for a brief time in 2025, as the man who designed the infamous board game The Siege of the Joke. Lorne would become Herbert's main source of information when he sat down to write his history of the siege for his autistic grandson in 2028. Lorne knew everything there was to know about the night of December 7 and the lives of its main players. This was disputed by no one. His encyclopedic knowledge of the siege's history was open for Herbert Le Beth's edification at any time, day or night. In all, he went to Garrett Lorne's apartment twenty times during the winter of 2028 to hear the stories and perspectives few others had. Lorne was thirty then, a bony, bespectacled vegan with a self-admitted marijuana addiction who had created board games based not only on the Joke's final night but on several other controversial military and police actions over the past fifty years of U.S. history. He had shown this work in many art galleries and gone on to sell several hundred copies of each of his games after he was profiled in national magazines and on television, making both a living and a name for himself as a conceptual artist. Some called him a ghoul trading on the deaths of real people. Few had ever actually played his games. They were meant to be marveled at, debated over, but not enjoyed. His most striking achievement, most critics agreed, was the game based on the night of December 7. He had even gone to jail for it for ten days, convicted of removing documents related to the logistics of the siege from the Library of Congress. Without those documents, he knew, his depiction of the Joke's layout might have been in some ways inaccurate.
The first time he and Herbert Le Beth met, Lorne set up a copy of the game (usually sold through his agent for twelve hundred dollars) on the floor of his efficiency for the old man to examine. The gigantic eight-piece board, which had taken over a year to illustrate, displayed the grid of the Joke's streets in stunning detail. Nothing was left out. There were all the buildings, drawn to scale and meticulously colored, there were all the alleys and corners and sidewalks, the YMCA, the Worship Center, the Diary, the Tree, the old church, the decrepit ball fields, the quad, the police command post that was hastily set up in a construction trailer on F.D Gregory. The goal of the game, depending on which side you chose to play, was either to subdue the Street Spiders and rescue the hostage Donald Gowles, or fight off the police as they launched their mission to take control of Bello Gardens. In addition to the game board, five hundred "Event" cards, a complex weaponry exchange chart, a battle chart providing resolution to individual and mass skirmishes, and six hand-crafted dice, there were multi-colored wooden game pieces representing the SWAT, ATF, and regular police teams. And then there were sixty-nine circular pieces painted yellow and gray, one for each and every member of the Street Spiders who fought that night. Their names were printed in tiny letters on the pieces. No one had been left out. All the pieces were equal in their fighting abilities; none were more special than any other.
Garrett Lorne had learned all those names: D-Cide, Smash Mouth, Cotton Boy, Lancelot, Pickins, The Ghost, Spy Plane, Tacky Mac, Clicks, Nevah Known, Berry N, Tom Tom, Red Zone, G-Book, Bake Peters, Tricycle, dozens of others. The youngest Street Spider was eighteen, the oldest thirty-one. They all fought even though they had no chance of winning, virtually no chance of anything but arrest or death. In addition to consuming the facts of the siege over the course of five years, Lorne had studied the psychology of its participants, looking for an answer to the question of why the Street Spiders were so willing to battle so recklessly against overwhelming forces. It was his belief that they fought for a greatness that would live longer than they, that would never present itself to them in any other way. Its seduction was undeniable. They were making history; no one in their lives had ever thought they could even make an honest living. By coming as close to dying as was demanded of them, they would guarantee their immortality.
Herbert Le Beth examined the board game in Lorne's book-strewn apartment and he listened closely to everything the man had to say, stories first told by former Spiders now approaching middle age or who never made it that far, and by policemen who would never know anything like December 7 ever again. Lorne and Herbert were not friends and never would be, but they became close. Lorne never got over his awe that this old man was Charles Le Beth's father, and Herbert never grew tired of listening to the things about the siege, and about his son, which he had never known.
He knew that Charles had arrived in Chicago after fleeing the Joke and gone to work in a candy warehouse while living at the YMCA. In the warehouse he met a man who had been active in the Black Panthers decades before and was at age fifty-five a member of a militant group called Canis Major. This man told Charles that there was only one way out of his misery: to go to school and get a high school diploma, then scratch his way into college any way he could. Only through education, he said, could the people above him truly come to fear him. Charles was still impressionable enough to attempt a casual venture down that path, undistracted by any personal ties which might have otherwise filled his nights. Schoolwork kept his mind off the past like a miracle drug. The rest of his life was well-known. Herbert Le Beth did not know, however, that Charles was plagued by depression and anxiety throughout college, and as he became more and more of a scholar, he grew ever more difficult to become close to. Though Garrett Lorne provided this insight, the theory was taken, by his own admission, from a 2013 book about the Joke called We the Darkness, which relied heavily on interviews with Charles's ex-wife. He married her at age twenty-five and was divorced three years later. His expertise with cutting and calculated verbal attacks became more and more chillingly awesome as he entered law school and progressed far beyond the destiny his mentor at the candy warehouse envisioned for him. By the time Charles passed the bar, he had never been more hard-hearted or distrusting. And he still dreamed sometimes of his ninety seconds inside that Amana freezer, ninety seconds which had corrupted his personality in ways no one ever fully understood.
So Charles and Rod Baker had something in common, then, Herbert Le Beth said one night to Garrett Lorne: they were both traumatized by violent incidents when they were teenagers and had nightmares long afterwards. Lorne replied that they had something far greater in common: God had tried to strike them both dead before the siege of the Joke, but had failed. He explained to Herbert that one day in 2003, Rod Baker left the Joke to travel by bus to see his mother in Cicero. Halfway there, while standing at a rest stop, he suffered a heart attack, the legacy of an undiagnosed congenital deformity. After a four hour operation, he laid in a Noblesville hospital for two weeks, unable to bring himself to tell anyone back in the Joke that his body was weak and could not be trusted. It was too great a handicap to bring back and reveal. He returned to the Joke fifteen pounds lighter after telling everyone he knew that his mother had died while he was in Cicero, and that was why he had been away so long and so conspicuously out of contact. He took his secret to the grave. No one ever saw the many medications he had to take and no one ever felt his quiet dread of his own once-awesome body. He gained the weight back quickly, and with it he seemed to gain a new bloodlust. His main duty within the gang, capturing new territory in Point Unity by slowly spreading the drug trade ever farther north, became an obsession with him, and he employed violence more and more to maintain the Spiders' influence. It was said that because of Rod Baker's tactics, the Spiders were forced to adopt a constant wartime mentality. There were more and more showdowns with the Dracs and Sandanista Red, more killings, more and more arrests. Some believed Baker was the one who truly caused the undoing of the gang and hastened the inevitable abandonment of the Joke. He simply let things become too savage. Even Akili Chones was scared of him. It all went back to the heart attack, Lorne claimed. Baker could not retaliate against his own traitorous body, or against his mother's dead ex-boyfriend, so he took his hatred outward. God couldn't quite kill him by stabbing him in the heart and God couldn't quite kill Charles with cancer. And so they both made it, hobbling mentally and physically, to early December of 2007.
There were more stories, dozens, hundreds more, and Lorne's version of events always seemed to jibe with what Herbert Le Beth read and heard from people who had actually been there. One thing even Lorne did not know about was Herbert's subterranean journey into the Joke toward the end of that night. The exact route he took was not included on the man's intricate and haunting game board. Herbert told him all about the route, and what he saw along it, only after he thought he had heard everything Lorne had to say. The artist listened wide-eyed, ravenous, as the tale unfolded. After that, their association was at an end.
Herbert Le Beth picked up his pen again and went on with his account of the siege sooner than he thought he would after stopping the first time. Once in a while his grandson Damon was brought inside the room to lie on the bed and doze comfortably as the writing continued. One by one, the notebook's pages became bumpy and puffed with blue Bic ink. Damon watched TV with the sound off, looked at pictures of boats in an oversized book, ate quietly and behaved. The boy's mother, who had known Charles for only two weeks before he died, was a good if distant woman, an assistant manager at a clothing shop in Livingsong. Herbert was grateful to have them close. He did not think he'd have the slightest chance of finishing the story if he had to do it all alone, in his tiny empty house, with the end of his own life a fixed point in the near future, and the fall leaves becoming cracked and brown over all that he knew of the world.
Sam Hollis, age 37, Rosette Street, Glen Elm
What is your impression of the timeline of that day, after the kidnapping?
Well, they took that guy hostage, and then a lot of time went by where just nothing happened. They talked to people coming out but the police just sat around for hours. I guess they were getting in position to go in.
When did they actually go in? Do you recall?
Boy. Seemed like it was dark out. I got all this from watching the TV, you know, so I can't be sure, but I know it was dark when they were talking about how shots were being fired.
Have you ever gotten any other perspective, from school or your parents or....
Well, it was in my history textbooks, in high school, they talked about it, but you don't get any detail from those. It's just enough to quiz you, right?
Marianne Dentz, age 57, Rosette Street, Glen Elm
The police waited a long time before they invaded the Joke?
Oh yeah, hours and hours, they had this guy hostage but the police didn't do anything, and it just went on and on, I guess they were negotiating with the gangs.
It was just the one gang, the Street Spiders. There really wasn't any communication between them and the police after one o'clock, so why do you think they waited so long to go in?
I'd bet it was because they were kind of afraid of the bad publicity, if I had to guess. People were going to think of it as a white against black thing, so maybe they were just praying the gang would come out with their hands up so there wouldn't be this huge racial controversy.
Susan Weems, age 44, Barrie Court, Glen Elm
It was my impression, it was all our impression, everyone who was watching the coverage on TV with me, that they were ready to just give them anything they wanted, but the gang wasn't telling them they wanted anything. So they just kept going back and forth and finally they said, Okay, that's it, we have to go into that neighborhood and save this man because they're just going to stay in that building forever. Those people plus all the ones spread out around the neighborhood.
So when did the SWAT teams and the police and the ATF physically go into the Joke?
They waited until dark, then they cut the power off, and then about a half hour after that they started shooting.
They let hours and hours pass because they wanted to watch and see what Rod Baker did, and because they were so afraid of a war. They wanted to know whether this had to be a major standoff or if the Spiders might come out when the police stopped trying to communicate with them, or maybe come up with some kind of demand that could be met. The hostage negotiator had told them that Baker probably wouldn't be able to stop himself from calling again and again. But there was nothing said back and forth after 10:20. So they waited and waited, all the time getting together the people they needed from the ATF and the supplies they needed to stage the assault. They had ambulances waiting on each of the four sides of the Joke. They had a dozen spotters looking for any sign of movement, and once in a while they saw something, but almost never on the streets themselves, usually it was in the windows. Rod Baker had told everyone he could not to move so they wouldn't be seen. But a few of the Spiders got impatient and they snuck from building to building or looked out the windows, and most of the time they were seen. So the police realized that none of the buildings was really empty, they understood that every one of them had someone in it, and everybody was armed.
Henry Muller, age 65, Sunset Drive, Glen Elm
If you ask me, they should have waited till four, five in the morning, just wait them out, because then the people inside that building would have been tired and sleepy and exhausted, right? Isn't that what they should have done? But they went in there right in the middle of the afternoon.
They waited a little longer than that. But they had a hostage, should they have let him wait?
Look what that guy was like, though. There's something else they could have done, just forget about him. That guy was a Nazi. You're gonna risk a bunch of lives of cops to save that guy? No way.
They had to act more quickly than that to make sure no one accused them of simply letting Gowles die. They would have done anything to avoid a gun battle, they would have given the Spiders anything they wanted. The negotiator suggested they actively make offers. A fight was too hideous to think about, but every hour that passed, it became more....more apparent that getting something wasn't what this was all about, there was no way to stop it, it was inevitable. They left about a dozen messages on the cell phone that Baker had used to contact them. They were all very carefully written by the hostage negotiator. The idea of them, the design of them, was to sound more and more desperate and willing to do whatever Baker wanted them to do. But Baker never listened to any of them. When his cell phone was recovered they were still waiting to be accessed. So the police set a deadline for themselves. If it got dark and there was still no contact, the SWAT teams would be sent in to attack the situation. And by 5:00 there was almost no light left in the sky. Dusk came early, because of the rain.
How come you don't want to use your full name, or tell how old you are?
Because of my kids, you know, I'm not around a lot for them but they shouldn't be finding out stuff from a book about me, that's not right.
What do they know about it all?
Nothing yet, I don't think. I'll tell them when I have to.
But I guess you weren't even twenty-one back then, right?
Right around there, right.
Can you tell me again how you saw what the Joke became after the siege?
Yeah, all right. My mother sent me some photos of it when I was in jail.
Madeline Masters, age 54, Viola Street, Glen Elm
What's the area like these days?
Glen Elm is terrific, it's absolutely very nice, and Merrifield too. Most of Point Unity is undergoing kind of a renaissance too. So you have all kinds of housing options, but really this is the best place to be, in my opinion, for the money.
Did you have any problems selling units in Glen Elm to start with?
No, not really at all. Of course it was a lot cheaper to get a place those days, that was before all the new restaurants and businesses started coming in, and the area didn't have such a good reputation. When Glen Elm was being built, there was still not much around here at all, it was kind of an island between the other neighborhoods.
When was that, when did they begin construction?
That was 2010, that was the year I started selling houses here, and that was the year I moved in too.
I guess the southern edge of Point Unity and down near Chalice Street, that was all still a little dodgy back then.
Yeah, it was, but it was already getting better.
Not now, though. It seems like the only place with any crime to speak of nearby is in Gray Hill.
Mm-hmm, Gray Hill has its problems, it hasn't changed all that much. But I think what happened is that when they took all the stoplights out of F.D. Gregory and it became more of a highway, Gray Hill got kind of cut off. People used to walk across there all the time to get here, but they really can't anymore.
Back when it was Bello Gardens, you mean, that's when they used to do that.
Right. Then they built those new offices all in a line right down the road, those really expensive ones. So the two places are kind of separated.
When you first came here and started selling the houses, was every bit of Bello Gardens gone?
Yeah, you'd never know anything was ever here except for big rubble piles here and there. Everything when I came was either already built or being built or the lots had been totally cleared. It was kind of ugly, to tell you the truth, all those dirt lots. The first people to move in had nothing to look at but dirt lots in every direction!
So this is the place to be, then, right now.
Absolutely. You can still get a deal here. Now when they put in that new Safeway shopping center in Point Unity, that big outdoor shopping plaza, those places are going to go for much higher than what you can get very reasonably here. It's just insane what's happened to the housing market here, now you really have to look long and hard before you spend.
Jennifer Lomez, age 44, Long Arrow Lane, Glen Elm
What was the weather like on December 7?
Oh, just lousy, the sun never came out once that whole day. Really cold, drizzly, ugly.
Where were you living?
Right over on Nell Street.
How many blocks away from the Joke is that, could you see it?
Yeah, we saw it when the power went out. They cut all the power and somebody screwed up and a lot of people in Merrifield got their power cut too, because they were on the same grid or something, so they were upset, they were like, "Where's our electricity?"
You were looking over there when the power went out? Were you looking through a window, or....
No, see, we had been watching on TV a little, and then we actually went out into our back yard to look over there because our neighbor told us he was watching through a pair of binoculars and he said he could see SWAT guys on the rooftops. So we went out to take a look, but it was too far away to see anything, and we were out there for a few minutes and all of a sudden everything out there just got less bright from one second to the next, you just sensed it, and then you noticed that none of the light poles over there was on, so we knew the police had cut the power.
What time was that?
Like five, five-fifteen, it was just then dark.
So they lost power in Merrifield, too?
Yeah, a few dozen houses did.
What kind of community was that back then?
Same as today, rich people. I shouldn't say that.
Henry Muller, age 65
Why did they cut all the power and the phones going into the Joke?
That's a tactical thing, see, to isolate the enemy. It's a psychological thing, too, it's a power thing. I don't mean just electrical power, I mean psychological power.
Basically it was to hide the entry of the two SWAT teams, which didn't work as well as they thought, because when it got totally, utterly dark inside the Joke, then everyone's eyes could adjust little by little, so there's some debate as to whether it was even a good idea. And there was also a disturbing visual sense that very few men going in would be used to, finding themselves in a huge city area devoid of electric light. There's something about it that's unreal. The commission's report recommended they evaluate that kind of thing more carefully in the future.
Ceil Jacobs, age 69, Barnaby Street, Glen Elm
We saw them go right down into a storm drain, a bunch of guys dressed up for combat. That was on F.D.Gregory Street. They had it all blocked off.
Did you live there?
No, we were just driving through, we didn't live anywhere near there. But around this corner suddenly everything was roped off and blocked off and there were all these vans, and one by one these men were going down beneath the sidewalk. We had no idea what was going on. Exciting!
They went in through the sewers, one team from Chalice Street and the other from the north. It was a half mile walk through them. The team responsible for assaulting Building T came up on Van Der Zee Street three blocks away, they hoped they were out of sight but they assumed they were seen. They had chosen entry points that didn't seem to be in view of any of the Spiders they'd spotted.
It was raining, right?
It was a very light, very cold drizzle, and they came up from underground and saw that strange darkness and those tall buildings surrounding them, completely quiet. The whole place really was a tomb to them then. No one there had ever seen or felt anything quite like it. The first man to come up climbed up out of the sewer drain, then he crouched down and waited a full minute before he gave the signal to another man behind him that it was safe to move. Then the first man ran across the street and pressed himself flush against Building S. I'll draw it, here. It went on like this for a few minutes until the first eight men were up and into the Joke. They had night vision goggles but they didn't see any signs of life.
What were they armed with, what did they have?
The usual, assault rifles, I'd have to look up exactly which kind, batons, flash-bang grenades. Then on the other side of the Joke, the police were a little bolder. Twenty men came up through the sewer onto 14th Street. They were supposed to fan out and inspect the area in case there was a force of Spiders waiting for them. If they thought everything looked stable, they'd call over to the team on Van Der Zee, and that team would then make their way to Building T and head in.
Paul Bellingeres, age 26, Rosette Street, Glen Elm
I read about this in a book, it's very interesting, how they move. The first guys sort of wrapped themselves around one of the buildings nearby the one they wanted to get into. They put two guys at every corner, so that way every man had a straight line of sight to the other. That way everyone could get each other's signals and they saw everything in all directions. They just used their hands to signal each other.
That's how they do it, or that's how they actually did it on that night?
No no, that's actually from what they said about that night. That's how they crept up on the building they wanted to infiltrate.
I guess you were in kindergarten back then?
Not even, I was smaller than that. But I read a book about the siege when I was eleven or so, I was fascinated by all that stuff, I wanted to be a Ranger, but then I got cancer in my leg, so no chance. This leg's artificial, you wouldn't be able to tell unless I told you.
They didn't advance until they knew there was absolutely no danger. Finally four of the men moved toward the main entrance of the building, this is S we're talking about, and they went in while the others waited, they were given five minutes to go in and come out again with a report of what they'd seen.
So the building was totally dark, no lights on at all.
Right. They took out their flashlights and they had to make their way through the building by that light alone. They divided the team in half. Two men went up to the second floor and the two others started climbing the stairs all the way to the top, that's where they thought the Spiders might have sentries. They were right, that was where a sentry was, but the SWAT team had already been seen by him, and that one Spider on the top floor went down three flights of stairs and hid himself in one of the apartments on the ninth, I think, the ninth. The two SWAT cops stayed on the top floor and peered out, and they prepared to send signals down below to the team that was waiting to move on to Building T. The signals were sent when everything seemed okay, and no Spiders were seen in any of the windows in their sight line. They were trying to pick out one specific place they could send men from the team which had entered from below Van Der Zee Street. But the Spiders didn't show, they stayed hidden. They knew already they couldn't stay on the top floors, that they had to move down to avoid being found by the police.
Okay, draw this part for me, where they went across the street.
From Building S, okay, the first team moved across Attucks Street toward Bluford Street. They just followed the same procedure as before. By that time, everyone could see a little bit better because their eyes had adjusted somewhat to the dark. The same went for the Spiders, and the Spiders had better vantage points, they could see the police coming, almost every move they made.
Akili Chones, age 46, Terre Haute United States Penitentiary
Elias came to see me, and he told me the whole thing, how it all happened. He didn't tell me how he got out, but he told me all kinds of stuff he did. Like he was standing on this balcony when the police went by in the beginning, he was just standing there pointing his Colt down right on their heads, he was like, I'll kill every one of them if somebody just gives me the okay. He said he shouldn't have even been out on the balcony, but he couldn't stop himself, he was having fun, with the cops thinking they were being so sly and him watching them. I mean, he had them dead, all he had to do was pull the trigger.
Why not shoot, though, wasn't it obvious that there was going to be a battle, why not start it right there?
Because Rod had told him not to. Because he knew everyone would try to say the Spiders started it, so he thought, Better we should lose a couple guys and get pinned back than have people thinking we started the shooting. But that didn't matter, because people blamed it on him anyway. That was kind of childish if you ask me, that he thought that there was some way he wouldn't get blamed no matter what happened.
That's almost military thinking, though, if he thought it was all right that a few Spiders should die, he was calculating how many they could lose.
Maybe Rod thought that way, but Elias didn't, and he said not too many of the other guys did. No one was gonna die if they could help it.
Baker had a single word that would let the Spiders shoot without being provoked first. It was Stampede. If he said that one word into his walkie talkie to the five men he had picked to receive it, it meant they should all start shooting, wherever they were. He wouldn't give it, though, unless it was absolutely necessary. The police knew he was thinking this way, so they were being even more cautious. Whatever happened, they couldn't be blamed for starting a gunfight. That was more important than saving the hostage, by far. The priority was, everything that happens, it has to be the Spiders' fault. It can't even be spun later. It has to all be black and white, so to speak, very clear cut that the Spiders were the ones who brought this all down on themselves.
Paul Bellingeres, age 26
The SWAT guys, the ones who went into the first building, when they turned their flashlights on, there were all these hundred dollar bills spread everyplace on the floor, all around, all over, it was all drug money, so they took it.
The commission that was set up to do a report on the siege had it different. They said that there were twenty dollar bills spread all over, intentionally spread over, but they weren't touched, nothing was taken.
Why would they leave that stuff behind? Twenty dollar bills, hundred dollar bills, I wouldn't care, I'd take it. It was stolen money, I mean. They didn't earn it.
Akili Chones, age 46, Terre Haute United States Penitentiary
That was my idea from way back, we wanted to do that way back, to the cops, so Rod went ahead and did it.
What was the point?
To, you know, send a message. Well, not send a message, what I mean is, it tells the cops, Look, we know you're greedy, we know you're here to take everything you can get, it's not like you never did it before, so here, take all this money, that shows how corrupt you are.
But the SWAT team didn't take it. There were two men who saw the money, but they left it alone.
Yeah, I don't believe that. They must have took some.
Is it possible that they knew why the Spiders had left the money there, and just decided not to take the bait?
Maybe, but how do they know they never took any? It wouldn't've bothered their conscience any. How do we know it was even twenties, it could have been fifties or hundreds, that's how we used to stash money if we had a lot of it, we would've kept it somewhere and in bigger bills than that because it took up less space that way, you could get it all in a case and put the case anywhere you wanted to.
Well, anyway, they found a lot of it and took it in as evidence. So the homeless people inside the Joke probably never came across it.
Too bad for them. Where do you think that money is now? Anybody know? You see what I'm saying?
Horace X. Johnson, age 50, member of the Resistance Intent, 2003-2007
I was the first one that Kojo got a hold of after he talked to Rod Baker. He explained it all to me and I told him I was completely confident that we could have a few hand-picked people from the Intent ready to go in two hours. Completely confident. And I told him Griff would definitely be there too. We were already looking at nine or ten people, and about half of us knew the Joke pretty well. So Kojo told me to handle it and then we were going to meet up in Point Unity as soon as we had some number of committed people, let's say it was six or seven, that sounds about what we agreed on as a minimum. And that was done with maybe two phone calls. The deal then was, unless I or Griff left a certain message for Kojo with a friend of his, I can't say who, the plan was still a go.
To go in and help the Spiders.
Correct. All Kojo had to do was give us the go-ahead to actually start moving, and he would see what kind of specific plan Rod Baker had in mind for us. Kojo was in control of any operation we were into, we'd agreed he would control the pace of the thing and the contact with Rod Baker. So we started setting up a plan of our own based on what some of us knew about the Joke and how to get in it, which was the sewers. That was the easiest way, to go right below the streets through the sewers. We needed to start a backup plan in case it turned out the Spiders didn't have one. We did all of this right over the phone, we didn't even think about it. Then we waited to be told it was on.
Did you know what you were getting into, were you right at that moment consciously prepared to truly fight in the street?
Right at that moment, if it was a case of the cops going in there and clearly starting to kill off black men, yes.
The side of Building T where Rod Baker had come out on the balcony faced La Guma Avenue. The police approached the building from the opposite side, from Bluford Street, and the last thing between them and Rod Baker was this two-story storage bay where the maintenance department used to keep some of its equipment. When I first laid out the map for the game I actually got the size wrong, I made it cover too much area. There was a tiny thin alley beside the building on that side, and no balconies looking down into it. There was almost nothing visible in the dark because it was so tucked away, so that's where the bulk of the south side SWAT team met up. There was a Spider on the roof, Mac Paul, Tacky Mac he was called, he was lying flat on his stomach, and he could hear their voices, but not so clear as to know what their exact plan was, but he knew they were there. He waited for them to move out before he radioed in to Rod Baker, and he told them they were coming even though he had never actually dared look over the edge of the building to spot them. He knew any movement could be picked up by the police spotters.
Where was everyone else? How far away were they?
You mean, the other SWAT team? There was an armored, ah, vehicle called for just before the south team snuck over to Building T, the idea being that the second the assault on the target apartment itself began, it would pull up and let out eight more men to come in from the east side. Also at that moment, to the north, two raid vans would enter the Joke with more armed cops in case some of the Spiders tried to escape up La Guma Avenue or Bearden. It would make more sense for the Spiders to run north, because the Green Rose Parkway cut off the east, so north was where there was more room to maneuver and hide if it came to that.
Paul Bellingeres, age 26
Also in the vehicles there were TEMS people, Tactical Emergency Medical Support people. They were going to deal with any wounded, that was their job. They were usually volunteers, medics who got trained for SWAT duty.
On the chance that Rod Baker or the other Spiders anticipated the assault too perfectly, the south SWAT team waited longer than they really needed to before going into Building T. They wrapped themselves around it, they were anticipating fire from Buildings Q and P to the north, but those were some distance away and hitting a moving target from there would be really tough in the dark and the rain. The rain dropped visibility down to only a hundred feet or so. They were worried more about the balconies on the west side of the building. They were made out of cement, the flooring was a solid mass, and looking up at them it was impossible to tell if anyone was standing on them. So they stood and waited, they were expecting at least two dozen or so Spiders to be inside. The police were hoping they would see how surrounded they were and finally give up. That didn't happen.
At ten after six, the SWAT team went right in through the main lobby. A group of men stayed outside to watch for movement and maybe a mass desertion by the Spiders. The main lobby was on the opposite side of the building from the apartment they thought Donald Gowles was in, so it was the perfect point of entry. Fifteen men went down the hallway toward the east stairwell, fifteen went to the west one, and they started up.
All those details you know, down to the number of men, the way it rained....
I got into it all because I had to know everything to do the game.
But it's been a few years since that, and you still remember it all.
Maybe it's living so close to where it happened. Talking to Herbert here, too, that brought it all back. I hope he'll chime in if I get something wrong.
Have people ever reacted badly to your games, have they reacted badly to this one, spoken to you personally?
Sure. I've had, would you believe it, death threats. I've been sued, it goes around and around.
Do you feel any guilt?
I never killed anyone. You buy one of the games, all they are is living evidence that people kill other people. It's evidence that people understand. Every person reduced to a small piece, that's what history is, in the end. That's what scares people about them, the fact that I display how unimportant a human life can become. But at the same time, I'm remembering for them. It's been only twenty years and no one talks much about the siege anymore. They won't do that job, remembering, so I do it for them.
Peter Hammersmith, age 48
What did you see, beginning with the first floor?
Of Building T?
Oh God, it was terrible. Judging by the condition of the streets, we knew it would be bad, and some of us had been in these buildings before, they'd had to use smaller teams for smaller things over the years. But there had been some kind of decline when people left. There was abandoned furniture in the hallway, there was a baby carriage, there were shoes, I mean just all manner of junk everywhere, and the floor was filthy, it was cold, and here we were looking at it with our flashlights, we didn't even have electricity to go by, so it was like the inside of a crypt. It felt like something had happened there already, like a plague had come through and wiped out all the people and the building had been rotting for years. Just a nightmare, a depressing nightmare, I couldn't understand how human beings had let the place become like that.
You went past it all and into the stairwell.
Yeah, we just worked our way up. The other guys actually waved us up to the third floor because they had the second covered, so we went up there.
What did you see?
More of the same, really, but the third floor was where someone had written that autobiography, I guess you'd call it, on the walls. We ducked our heads into every apartment, one by one, and we didn't find anything, but we knew we were getting close, so I was nervous, I just didn't like the fact that it was so dark, it gave them so many places to hide.
What do you mean about the autobiography on the walls?
Well, there was graffiti all over the walls on every floor, that wasn't unusual, but on the third floor someone had taken a ton of black paint, not spray paint, actual paint with a brush, and they'd started on one end of the hallway and gone all the way to the other, then crossed, then come all the way back with these huge paragraphs of writing, big block writing, the letters were like a foot high so as soon as we trained the flashlights down the hall it kind of stood out, it was tough to ignore. At first you might have thought it was some strange pattern of wallpaper, then you saw it was directly on the wall. Like someone had gone insane and started covering the walls with words.
Why do you say it was an autobiography, whose was it?
I couldn't really tell, I was focusing on other things, but I would catch glimpses of the writing every time I moved on to the next apartment, we took them in threes. But it started out with some guy writing his name, and then he told how he was born in the Joke, and it had his parents' names, and I swear to God it had some story from his childhood about the police or something, then it went on and on, there must have been seven lines of writing on each wall, the one on my left and it continued across the hall.
Seven lines of writing, and how long was the hallway?
Jesus, about eighty feet, ninety feet.
So you could follow the story down....and then if you turned around....
You read it going back the other way, yeah.
Are there any other details you remember about it?
There was a Bible quote at the end, I wish I could remember it but I really don't. At the end the guy also was talking about the afterlife like he was already there, or something, it's too long ago, we're talking twenty years.
Were you frightened?
Of course. I heard somebody's footsteps above me, running across the floor, that was the only time we talked when we were moving, I had to tell someone because it seemed like no one else had heard. I always thought we should have waited them out, it wasn't worth one person, we were just too unfamiliar with what it was like in there. We were used to dealing with things on this planet, not whatever planet that was.
Building T, that was my building, you know, that's where I lived.
It was in bad condition?
It was horrible, man, it was a disgrace.
The Diary was worse, though.
It didn't get much worse than T.
Terry LaRoche, age 44, Rosette Street, Glen Elm
Apparently they had a cat and mouse game going on, the gang members were running around and hiding and re-positioning themselves, and the SWAT team was slowly getting closer to the floor where they were. The gang members were hiding in the ceilings of those apartments.
I think that might be a misconception people got from the PBS documentary. Franky Guest said they had considered creating places to hide in the ceilings, but they never did because of how the ceilings had been built, it was too difficult. And from that, everyone seems to repeat only the first part of the story.
Could be, but I thought I read somewhere that's what they did.
No, I don't think so.
But they were hiding and re-hiding, right, and building a barricade at each end of the hallway.
And then they set the barricade on fire.
Peter Hammersmith, age 48
What did they use to block the stairway?
Every damn thing, sofas, trash, big bags of trash, huge bunches of blankets, gigantic pieces of flooring, parts of walls, but actually it was mostly trash, you started to smell it as you got closer to the stairwell. So there were rats, too, I saw two of them.
What did you do? How many men did you have again?
We had ten guys or so, so we called the other team and had them send two men up through the elevator shaft, and I took some guys and we went through an apartment and went out onto the fire escape.
When did you realize that both the barricades were burning?
I never did until it was two floors beneath me, we were above everyone, we were ready to work down, the stairwell was clear coming down from up above, and I was radioed and told they'd set fire to the stairwells and they were burning slowly. So we just went down, I didn't even think about it. We got there before the men who went up through the elevator shaft, they were the ones who got a little smoke. We coordinated things in the space of about fifteen seconds and we were on the right floor and it was time to go.
You went outside through an apartment, then came in through a window off the fire escape and back into another apartment? Did you have to break a window?
No, it was shut but not locked. That was lucky, so we could be quiet. We were two apartments down from where they thought the hostage was and where Baker was. We were outside for ten seconds tops, we barely even got a look around. We should have, though, we blew that, we should have checked out the roofs while we had that angle on them. All we did was make sure nobody had a bead on us.
And the other team was already down the hallway when you went back in through the window.
Right, then we told them we were coming out, so they were all set.
How many were you, total?
Did you go right into the apartment where you thought they were?
No, we waited about a minute, because they'd closed and locked every door in the hallway, so we figured they would have probably moved the hostage, they weren't stupid. We thought we'd outlast them a bit. After they set fire to the stairwells we'd figure they'd be itching to get out of there, so we wanted to let them do it. But too much time went by, and the goddamn end of the hallway was glowing on one end because of the fire, and we could hear things getting busy outside the building, the van pulling up, so we finally went through the door.
You had to kick it down, or....how did that work?
No no, we used a ram, and we threw two flashbangs in ahead of us.
What does that do?
Huge light, a huge noise, just deafening and blinding. A shock to the system. It buys you two or three seconds of total control and the hearing loss can go on for a while if you're close enough.
And you saw the Spiders in that apartment, right in front of you.
Byron Lea, age 40, Bright Cove Road, Glen Elm
What do you think about now when you walk around the neighborhood, do you think to yourself, this building was over here, that was over there.....
Yeah, I still think about that, you can't not think about that.
Are the streets pretty much laid out like they used to be?
No, they were all torn up when they built this all. Bearden is still kind of like Bearden was, but it's not called that. That's the only one that sort of looks like the way it was. It's exactly as long.
What was right here?
This is really close to where the quad was, it was like a block away from here.
It's a nice townhouse, who else lives here?
My mom lives here, my brother lives here, my girlfriend lives here with me.
Did you all pitch in with the costs, the money?
Yeah, now we do, but first off my mother and my brother got into a program to get it a lot cheaper than it should have been because his kids were living here too.
You mean a housing assistance thing, sort of a voucher?
Did your mother used to live in the Joke?
We all did, before my brother had his kids.
So the same state that put your family out of the Joke in 2007 helped put them back into it after a few years, except it was Glen Elm now and much nicer.
Yeah. But they didn't know I would be back, I didn't come back till four years ago.
Which building did you use to live in, when it was the Joke?
Why was it called that?
You don't know why they called it that?
I do, mostly, but I want to make sure I do.
Because of all the graffiti in it. And everyone had their names on it, on the outside, all us Spiders.
Was it always bad, was it always filled with graffiti inside?
Yeah, but back then, after everyone had to move out, it got ten times as much, it was just all over, it was just insane. Some Dracs got in and went crazy in there, some other people.
When did you join the Spiders?
Like a year before it all broke apart.
How much prison time did you have to serve because of what happened during the siege?
What were you doing between then and now?
Just bouncing around, I was in Chicago. I was getting back into the same stuff I was doing before, it was bad, you know, but I held on. Then me and my brother, we kind of worked things out, he said Come live with us.
So you didn't see the Joke after December 7 until you got out of jail, then you came back and it was like this.
Yeah. That was, that was unbelievable.
Did it make you mad?
I just needed a place to stay, I didn't get to thinking about that till later, then it made me kind of mad, they have that statue out there so people will remember it a little bit, the way it was, but that statue, you know, it's not even close to where it should be. It's all different. It's like the Joke was never there to begin with.
What do you do for a living now?
I'm in this print shop, Perfection Printing.
How many Spiders other than you got out that night, fully out and then arrested later?
Like ten or fifteen, I think.
Were you hurt?
Yeah, I got shot.
You mean like where on my body, or where in the Joke?
I guess both.
I got shot in the elbow, it broke my arm, my arm was broke. I got shot going down the fire escape.
Not of Building T, not that fire escape.
No, it was M.
Who shot you?
Some guy on the street, down below.
What did it feel like?
Felt like....the pain was real bad, it got hot too, my whole arm got hot, and I got blood in my eye. I couldn't see anything out of my right eye. It was bad.
Did you shoot anyone?
No, I never shot no one. That's the truth.
Did they claim you did?
Yeah, they just charged all of us like that, like we were all trying to kill everyone, it didn't make any difference to them what we actually did or didn't do.
Why did you stay and fight when there was nothing to save? Why did you make that decision?
It didn't matter that there wasn't anything to save. Charles told Rod and Elias it was time to do this, and they believed him, so we had to be all together.
But did you believe that yourself?
I don't know. All I knew was that everyone else was staying, so I was staying too. It was like this:
Marty Bregman, age 40, Governor's Court, Glen Elm
Bam bam bam, the police started shooting at the guys who were in there, in that room, and I think a policeman died right there, the first man in was shot, and then after that, they started chasing them, some of the gang members had to jump out the window. But that was a bad idea, because the whole SWAT team was down below, just waiting for them.
No, the first man to be shot on the SWAT team wasn't shot until everyone got outside. The Spiders in the apartment were already out on the fire escape, and they managed to all get back into the building one floor down.
I thought they got caught outside the building so they had to start shooting. Either I read that or someone told me that.
They started shooting about a minute later, when they were running.
How did the SWAT team not get them before they got out of the building? Weren't they on the seventh floor or something?
Michael Winship, age 56, Offer Street, Glen Elm
As I understand it from the documentary, they opened the door to the apartment where the Street Spiders were hiding, several of them, but they had just gotten ahead of them, they had managed to get out onto the fire escape outside the window, and they were seen there from down below, the group of them, and they were shouted at and warned to stop, but the SWAT team was trying to refrain from shooting them, so they all managed to disappear into a window on the floor that was next down. They had removed the entire window so they could dive into it, jump into it all in one motion, and once they got back inside the building, it was a foot race to see if they could get into the hallway and to a garbage bay....not a garbage bay, I don't know the exact word I'm looking for, it was just a hole cut into the wall where people dumped their trash, and it tumbled down into a room on another floor. They all went in there, into this little space, they had cushioned the fall and altered the chute, that's the word I'm looking for, they had altered it so it was wider and so that they wouldn't get hurt going down it. And once they got to that lower floor, they had some other way to get into the elevator shaft and get down it to the street level, but I forget how they were able to get out, it was through a back way, and they had put a ton of trash and boards and bricks in the way so they could get to it and out onto the street. But they were seen, there were just too many police swarming around the building, so their plan only worked halfway. How much of that sounds right? It may have been they went down the stairway, because....because they had set the stairway on fire, and it was too dangerous and smoky for anyone to get in there.
Most of that is right. They did have a plan to get out of the building. How many were there, who got out of the building?
And the men who found the room where Donald Gowles was, what did they find inside it?
I'm only relating what I've heard over the years and from this one movie, though, you know.
I know. That's okay.
Well, he was alive, Gowles was, they had strapped him to a bed with electrical tape, so he couldn't move at all. And he was missing one, two fingers, I believe.
What condition was he in?
Ah.....not great, he was alive, but not a whole lot better.
Vonda Sobel, age 78, Drummer Street, Glen Elm
That poor man, he was dead, they'd killed him. I mean, I know he was not a good man, he was a racist and he should not have been there, but it was wrong to kill him, I don't think he threatened them, they just took him, and they held him for hours and hours and hours, and then they killed him. There wasn't any point, to do that. Whatever they were trying to do, I don't see how killing that person was going to....I don't see how they thought people would react all right with that, it just goes to show you that they weren't thinking at all. I can understand the....why they had a demonstration, to tell everyone that what they were doing, forcing them out of their homes, was wrong, and I said it was wrong back at the time. But they just took it too far, and now just not that one man, but so many of them are dead.
They cut Gowles out of the tape, and there didn't seem to be any major medical emergency with him, his breathing was all right, they'd wrapped his hand and he wasn't bleeding anymore. They said he had this weird, wild look in his eyes, like a caught fish, not fear exactly, but a total body panic, his eyes were open as wide as they could get. They pulled the tape off his mouth and they asked him if anything else had been done to him and if he was injured anywhere other than his hands. And he didn't say anything, nothing at all. You have to imagine he's been kidnapped, two fingers cut off, they made him hold them and throw them away, then he was locked in pitch darkness for hours, strapped down, then all of a sudden there's men everywhere, flashlights in his eyes. He was totally quiet for a minute or so, they got him to his feet, they didn't want to bring up a stretcher, they were real worried about that stairwell fire, so they wanted to see if he could move, but he was helpless, he had to be carried. And for some reason, no one ever really found out why, he started saying one thing over and over again under his breath, he kept saying "Peanut, peanut, peanut," again and again, to nobody, for no reason, he didn't stop until he was outside. His brain was fried. He got better, he went back to normal after a while, but that night he was so far gone, nobody could reach him. Big guy, covered in tattoos, the shaved head, everything, they made him into a little kid in the space of eight hours.
Lawrence Lear, age 50
It was really hard not to shoot when they came out, all I was waiting for was someone to raise a gun, but none of the ones I saw at first did. They ran like hell and we would have had to get someone in the back, and that was something they'd been really explicit about when we were setting up. A shot in the back meant someone was running away and that was total death for the whole thing. That was not something we could allow. As soon as I heard a shot coming from above us though, I fired at the ones I was seeing because someone else had immediately returned fire. I wasn't going to sit there then and just spot them as they scattered. I shot low and got one of them in the waist, I was off, and he kept going but he didn't get too far. By then the rest of them were pretty spread out and Lane was directing us and for about thirty seconds we were all mangled up. The first thing to do was take cover and find out exactly where the shots from the buildings were coming from. That took a lot of men, too many, because it turned out there were two different gunmen in two different places. It seemed like in no time at all we were out of guys. I didn't like seeing ones and twos start hauling ass down the street. We were all concentrated and as soon as we started splitting up it got shaky and strange.
We heard shooting from way far away, but nobody was giving me any kind of signal or nothing, and I had to wait for somebody else's signal. Rod was supposed to give it to Franky Guest and he was supposed to send it to all us on the roofs and on the top stories, we were supposed to get signaled with these two light flashes. Then the shooting stopped, and then it started again, and we could hear trucks moving, and I just said, I'm leaving, I'm gonna go to where the shooting is. And I looked down and I saw two guys running down Attucks as fast as they could, and I was like, forget the signal, and everyone else was like that too, it was time to head out. If we had sat there waiting, we couldn't tell if maybe something had happened to Rod and he couldn't warn us they were coming. So that was all the good communication we had, pretty much out the window from the beginning, because we couldn't see what was going on over on Bluford, we just heard shots.
We radioed down to the street level guys and told them they were coming, we didn't know how the Spiders were going to get out of the building but they were definitely coming. So the team down below started surrounding the building. That was when I heard the first shot, and it came from high up on Q, someone was shooting down at the team down below, it was covering fire. Almost right after that the Spiders came out on the side of the building opposite where we were, running like hell, and that drew the first one of our shots, because of course when we said Stop they kept going. If we had let them get even twenty feet too far it was too dark to see them at street level so pursuit was too difficult, so they were fired upon. We were returning fire toward La Guma Street by then, and then other Spiders in Q started shooting. Then it was definitely on, and the Spiders had the high positions all around. When I got to the street you could see the tiny flashes in the windows, that was the only light, except for the stars, you could see those really well in the sky because the street lights were turned off. But I saw right away from the number of flashes from the top windows that there was going to be a disaster, there were so many of them. The raid van got shot all to hell right away, someone up above really laid into it for some reason, the driver had to dive out. Whoever was up there really wanted to take him out, he destroyed the van. And I thought right away, even running for cover, I thought Man oh man, we need everyone we can get, we should have had everyone we could get from the beginning, the National Guard to surround the place, right away getting shot at from above from three different buildings it was a military fight and it was just like everyone had been working in a dream world where we thought this thing could be contained with two SWAT teams and Tactical Air and we'd rescue the hostage and get out quietly. Surreal. They were so ready for us, all those hours of planning and they could have cared less about the hostage, it was us they wanted. They must have known they were all going to get killed, but somehow that never factored into our thinking about the operation, that they didn't even care.
Herman Lentwich, age 44
We had to move from building to building, and we weren't even really sure where we were heading. Once we got word that the hostage was safe, then it became a thing of getting every one of the gang we could, but we were getting shot at. We were getting messages about one or two guys with guns on some street, and we had to move toward them, but every few seconds there'd be a shot, and half the time we just had to rely on our ears for where it came from. The acoustics were strange. That rain really fucked us up, there was like five minutes during the whole thing were it wasn't raining, and then you could actually see something, but as soon as it started drizzling again, forget about it.
You were part of the second wave of police, you weren't there originally, when it started?
When the shooting started, they trucked us in. We were going through the streets, taking these turns as fast as we could, and we were getting closer and closer to where the shots were coming from. Then Major Morris got a message and he told the driver to stop and we stopped very close to that gigantic tree sculpture that was there, and we got out, we were told to wait for the gang to come up that way, because that was supposedly where they were headed.
But "they" meant just the Spiders in Building T, right, so you were only waiting for a handful of Spiders to come?
Yeah, and meanwhile there were fifteen of them or so watching us and stalking us, so we got out on the street and headed down it, none of us had our night vision goggles on yet except for Major Morris, and then there were some shots. Those guys couldn't shoot a fucking thing, though, in that kind of dark and that kind of rain, and from all that distance, and they were afraid to get down to street level. But it slowed us down so much, it was like having a sniper in every single building. The way some teams did it was they had one or two guys to peel off and head into the building to find somebody to blow up. We didn't do that, though, because we were a small enough group as it was.
What sorts of things did you see, down there on the street?
Well, the place was deserted, there wasn't anything to see, there weren't any cars on the streets. We had a guy going along and he set his foot down right in the middle of a big window pane which was lying in the middle of the street and it cracked and we thought it was a shot so we all got down.
When did you see the Spiders? Did you even see any?
We saw one guy, one Spider, running across one of the intersections, and it was almost funny because he was going at full bore and he just got his feet tangled and he went smack down on his chest just as he was about to get around the corner of a building, and he got up all in one motion and kept going. And I could have shot him but we were still cut off from everything that was going on and we were still being way too careful. I mean, we were getting shot at from above and returning fire, and nobody was hitting anything that we could tell, but still Morris was telling us not to shoot unless we had a visual on someone who was armed. I don't think the Spider who ran across the intersection was carrying anything. Actually, we saw the fire in Building T before we saw any Spiders.
How big was the fire? How far away were you when you saw it?
It wasn't big but you could look all the way down one of the streets and see it in one window, just this big blot of yellow in one of the windows. And we didn't know how it started, for all we knew they had explosives. And then just perfectly we saw Spiders running down the street toward us. They were about four blocks away. And we were about ready to open up on them when they cut to the left, and then some guy popped out from behind a light pole just ahead and he ran that way too, like it was organized. So we ran that way, parallel to them. And when we got a couple of blocks over we saw the barricade.
Paul Bellingeres, age 26
They had all these cars parked end to end across one of the roads in this big chain, it was two deep with cars they had stolen, or cars they already had. They were parked so tight against each other you couldn't squeeze through them, and then they'd forced them in on the sides on the sidewalks so there wasn't any room to squeeze by, so the street was totally blocked off, you couldn't go around them at all even if you tried, and then they'd taken a bunch of that stuff from that demolished church and thrown it all in there between the cars to fill in the gaps, they probably did it in the middle of the night. And when the cops saw that they were like, "Whoa, we are so in for it, look at this stuff they did, we had no idea." Some of the guys were already just hiding inside the cars waiting to shoot out at anybody who came too close.
Herman Lentwich, age 44
Does Mr. Le Beth maybe not want to hear this, I don't know if it would upset him....
No, he's all right. You can say whatever you want. He'd just rather not speak.
All right, ah....they started shooting at us right away from inside the cars, there must have been about twenty of them, waiting, twenty Spiders. We kept a full block away and we returned fire and kept out of sight until someone could come help us. We got lucky because it never occurred to the Spiders to advance on us from the barricade, they built it and they just wanted to use it, they didn't think about where to go from there or how they would get annihilated when we came around from the other end. And they didn't have anyone in the buildings on either side, no one was firing at us from there. So many of those guys just abandoned where they were supposed to stay as soon as the shooting started. We wouldn't have been able to get near that barricade for an hour if they had kept shooting from above. That would have totally tilted it for them. But they had this herd mentality, too many of them wanted to be down on the street at the barricade to help each other out or not get into individual showdowns. And there was just no point to it.
How did no one find out that it was there, in five hours since the hostage situation began, weren't there spotters to see it?
Oh, they saw it, it was known we shouldn't try to get any vehicles down that street. But the information was bad, it wasn't assumed it was anything more than a bunch of junk they threw out there to wreck the place. No one was really expecting some kind of mass coordination by them, where they would be aligning themselves all over the place like an army. It was just assumed they weren't organized enough for that. They hid well, too, those guys, they came tearing out of the basements in those buildings around the barricade and no one had known they were there. And even if everyone was aware what the whole thing was meant for, I mean, it gave them absolutely no strategic purpose. Maybe they had one at some point, the gang did, but it got them absolutely nowhere.
Unless the point was to draw more and more police to that spot, to just do as much damage as possible.
That's true. Then it worked. I'm still not sure why we let them have their way like that, if it had been up to me we would have given it a pass.
It seems like, looking at the final report that was put out and from what other witnesses say, that everyone who was inside those cars in the beginning of it wound up dying. That was where the Spiders were truly wiped out.
Oh, of course, they were trapped in there. Once they started shooting us for real, it gave us the ability to go on the offensive, and eventually we just blew them out of there. I don't think they realized what kind of firepower we were willing to use. There was a lot of anger in a lot of people, we were stunned to see what kind of weapons they had, like they had just gone into a store and loaded up, every one of them. There was anger that these guys had been let loose to get all these guns and not stopped long ago, and it bled over into the way the fight went.
Did you know what kind of guns they had just from being there, or did you really find out afterward when it was all collected?
The forwards gave us a rundown on what they seemed to have before we went in, and it was known what kind of stuff the Spiders usually dealt with. I could tell most of them had AR-15s from the sight of them when I got close enough. Everyone was so humdrum about describing what they had when we were getting ready to go in, like it was no big thing that this place was so well-armed. I thought, For Christ's sake, what have you people been doing for the last few years, why isn't this whole place in jail right now?
So afterwards, did you see any of the bodies at the barricade, the Spiders inside the cars, or anyone else there?
No, I was gone by then, I was there for ten minutes then I hooked up with another team and went east because of the Worship Center. I know people who did see it after it was secured. But there were bodies everywhere, that was just another place.
Geoff Kelvin ignored the barricade, he said it was meaningless, and he somehow got everyone else to ignore it too, even the cops who were working the cordon on that side and could partially see it from the right angle a few blocks away. It was definitely a case of group-think, no one wanted to consider for a minute that just maybe the Spiders were looking ahead. If any single person of authority had been inside the Joke in the few days before the siege they might have seen the way they where driving stuff over there, and maybe that would have brought the police in before the seventh. But it was like it was invisible.
Michael "Wisher" Greene, age 44
I was high, I got high because I was real scared, you know, of what was happening. Rod told me to stay away from all that shit for a couple days, but I was freaking out. They left me all alone in C. Way far away from everything, but then I saw the SWAT people go by in these trucks. I was seriously messed up in my head, I felt crazy, after I saw those trucks go by it was like I was a total different person all of a sudden, I felt like I was immortal or something, I felt like I was a giant. So I was walking up and down the hallway on the top floor with my gun, going "Yeah, yeah, yeah" to myself like I was crazy, I mean, I was ready for anything, I would have taken them all on if they had come in there. I started staring out the windows waiting to shoot somebody but no else came past for a little while. So I left the building and I went out onto the street. And almost right away Groper ran by me, he was supposed to be over in B. I said, "Where are you going?" and he said, "Man, it's started up, I just heard it over the radio." He had a walkie talkie, see. I didn't have one. Not too many guys did. So he stopped for like two seconds and then kept going, and I said, "You ain't leaving, are you?" and he said, "Fuck no, where am I gonna go to? If you see me leaving, shoot me down like a bitch coward." It was a stupid question to begin with 'cause he was running toward the quad, not away from it. So he left, and I never saw him again.
I went back to C, I figured I'm not leaving my post, I own that building now, I'll take 'em all on. Totally nuts. The second I got back up to the top floor I saw five or six SWAT guys moving down Bluford, and I shot at 'em. Pow, pow, two times, and one of 'em shot right back at me, he put a bullet right through the wall next to me. I just started laughing. But I wasn't crazy enough to stick my face back out there. If anyone saw me, they would have thought I lost it. I felt great, I was so wired, I started walking up and down the hallway again, taking these huge steps, psyching myself up, I was thinking How can these dudes think they can get past me? Don't they know I'm going to eat 'em all up? If I wasn't high, I would have been thinking straight.
After like ten more minutes I figured, Okay, time to head out again, and I remember walking down the steps and that's it, the next thing I knew I was waking up in the hospital. I don't remember one single thing about anything that happened in between because I got shot in the head somewhere in that time. The bullet got me just below the ear. For a lot of years I kept waiting to remember some little thing, but it never happened. So I went from feeling on top of the world to blacking out to waking up and getting arrested, and I had to have someone explain to me everything about that night.
Horace X. Johnson
We had basically two meeting places in the city, so we met up at the one nearest the Joke, it was in Gray Hill, on the far side, away from the Joke, but still that was only like a mile, not even a mile. Griff and me and Ty Simmons and Robert Huggs. It was at the bottom of a CD store, a used CD store. I shouldn't tell you who owned it. Griff and me went down in there and everyone had made it, all the key people were there already. Ty was looking at a cruddy little street map he had, it was spread out over two chairs. The first thing he said to me was, "My car's around back, it has all the stuff in it." Which meant the guns.
We had AK-47s for about eight people, we took them out every couple of months and tested them. Half of them Ty had bought from the Dracs. Half of them I don't know where they came from. There was other stuff, too, smaller stuff.
Ty started to tell us about the Gray Hill side of the Joke, where all the baseball fields were, he was telling us he didn't see how the cops could have closed that all down and if we needed to go in maybe we could somehow get in over there instead of the sewers. He was saying that whoever actually wanted to go in had to know what they were getting into, there was going to be shooting, they had to know that, from what we'd heard by that point, if you were in the Joke you weren't getting out without a sacrifice. I knew Griff wanted to go in, he was ready. Robert said he'd do it too if we had someone backing us up and waiting. We were thinking about going in on the one hand, and in the meantime maybe Ty would drive around in the car around the edges of the Joke and seeing where the cordons were kind of lazy and vulnerable. Then my cell phone went off and it was Kojo. Right away he said, "I want you to be outside when I talk to you, just you." So I did that, but I'd already nodded to Ty that it was Kojo on the phone. They didn't come out because they figured I had a weak signal and couldn't hear if I was in the basement, no big deal, that was the gesture I kind of made, to suggest that.
So Kojo asked how it was all setting up. I could barely hear him, I didn't know where he was right then. He mainly started talking about his safe house idea. But I told him we had arms where we were, we had two people ready to try to get into the Joke, we were still short of some people though, it didn't feel too good suddenly with the numbers we had. He said, "Well, what makes Ty think they're getting out if they go in?" I said, "He doesn't think that, we're just saying if it has to be done, it has to be done." And he was quiet for a while, and he said, "This all leads to me, remember that, they know who every one of us is, and no matter what gets said later it gets traced back to me." Then he said something about how it was a matter of investment, too. I didn't know what he meant. He said, "We have to look at how much they're invested in us compared to how much we're sticking our necks out. There's been no investment on their part compared to us going in there for them. We have to look at the fact that we have no guarantees about reciprocation." It seemed weird he was talking about that now. I asked him how far away he was and he said he was still about fifteen minutes away, which meant he must have been stopped somewhere, because it had been a long time. He said, "I'm thinking, I'm just thinking." Finally Griff came up behind me, he had the keys to Ty's car. Kojo said he'd call me right back, so he hung up, and Griff asked me what the story was, and I told him we should get the guns down into the basement as soon as we could. And he said after we got things figured out, he wanted some time for us to pray.
How many times has Elias Snowden come to visit you?
When was it?
Right after Christmas, the year that it happened, and then I saw him about five years ago.
Did he come after Christmas mostly to tell you what had happened?
Yeah, he didn't have long, he only had about fifteen minutes to tell me some stuff.
Well, he was a wanted man, right, how did he get in here to visit you?
He used my father's name, but I think there was someone here who arranged something so he could get in here and out real fast and not get seen, because a couple days afterward one of the guards kind of let on to me that something was up with that.
I know you wouldn't tell me if you knew where he went after that, but did you know?
No, we didn't talk about that. He just wanted me to know that they fought hard and they fought for the right reason, and he wanted to tell me some things that the TV was getting wrong.
What was the reason he gave that the Spiders fought?
I don't know....we were breaking up and a lot of guys just wanted something to have that they could stand up for. Anybody's the same way. It could have been fighting the Dracs, but the cops came in first. But they wanted it to be the cops, because then they'd be fighting for the neighborhood, and not just for us to stay alive. People wouldn't forget.
Did he talk about any details of the fight, anything that wasn't eventually found out?
No, he didn't talk about that. He said they did everything they knew how to do, they were just trying to last as long as they could, and maybe they made a couple of mistakes, but no blame.
What kind of mistakes?
Like kidnapping that guy, that was number one. And getting everyone on that roadblock.
The one on Fourth Street.
Why was it a mistake?
Just too many people dying.
Senator John D'Acquisto
There was an instant eruption of little skirmishes after the Spiders escaped Building T, there was a communication breakdown, no one knew where Rod Baker was. He wasn't giving any orders, nothing was coming in to anyone over their walkie talkies. So there were a lot of people taking things into their own hands, Spiders abandoning their positions at the sound of gunfire and a flood of them to the barricade, which was originally supposed to be their fallback plan. The way the Spiders ran out of Building T and up La Guma, that was where they just naturally wound up. When the men hiding inside the cars saw them coming, they got ready to fight much sooner than they expected. And little by little the skirmishes around the Joke would break up and Spiders would work their way toward the barricade. So that's where they took the worst casualties, both in terms of numbers and in terms of the senselessness of it all. It was trench warfare, really, for about a half hour until the ATF came in from the rear and then they just tried to get the hell out of there, but it was way too late.
How close did the two sides get, the opposing sides, at the barricade?
Well, the SWAT teams advanced little by little toward them, and the Spiders didn't go anywhere. The SWAT team played what they referred to as a prevent defense, they made sure the Spiders weren't going anywhere and they just waited for some opportunity to charge forward. They used Buildings Q and R for cover and they planned their shots more carefully than the Spiders did. But I believe it came out that there were times when the two sides were only about twenty yards from each other till the end of that battle, when the Spiders got charged and had to run for it. Then they were of course up close, it became a hand to hand situation.
No one knew where Rod Baker was?
No, I was running along down Third Street toward the barricade with Franky, and I was like, "Where's Rod, did they kill him?" And he didn't know. We didn't know who was giving orders, so we assumed it wasn't anybody.
So you fought at the barricade too?
It was me and Franky, we came down Fourth and we heard shooting and we looked around the corner and saw the fight. But we couldn't see the cops, we saw guys shooting but for a second I didn't think they were shooting at anything. But then Franky was like, "Get the fuck down, get the fuck down!" and I saw some guys moving in and out of the building. So we got down behind this car and we saw Travis and Lonely behind them, taking their shots. And we held on for a couple of minutes, looking for anything to shoot but it was so dark all we saw was shapes. Then there was this big bunch of gunfire from the cops and I saw Lonely get hit, he got out of one of the cars in the front row and he got shot in the top of the shoulder and he fell down, and we all started blasting, we didn't care what we were shooting at, I was all over the place, we were screaming our heads off, and then Travis was yelling at me to back up, to get back behind the building. And he ran over to us out of sight of the shooting and told us to go up Bearden and come at the cops from behind. So we started running, but we got caught up a couple of blocks up because the cops were starting to spread out, and by the time we figured out how to get all the way around the cops, the barricade was broken up.
You mean it was overrun?
Yeah, overrun, everyone got fucked. Travis, everybody, that was just a wipeout. We woulda gotten wiped out too if we hadn't tried our thing.
I was in R and I was all alone and I was thinking about how I was supposed to know when to move because Tom Tom left me to go take a look outside. He was all excited, I swear he was almost having fun, and then he told me to stay put until he got back. But he was gone like five whole minutes and I heard a bunch of shots and I didn't know what to do. So I went to the window, I was on the first floor, and I took a look out even though I wasn't supposed to go anywhere near where someone could see me. Just then Tom Tom came running back down the street. He was yelling at me to come out. Then I saw everybody else coming out of Q across the street and they were all running to the line of cars we had. So I went out too.
How'd you go out, did you go all the way down the hallway?
No, the window was gone, there was just a big cold hole so I jumped out. I had to, otherwise I wouldn't've been fast as everyone else. I almost got shot as it was.
How many were you, right there at the line of cars?
I don't know, about fifteen at first. We didn't know what to do right off, all that happened was someone got the call to get out onto the street, I forget who had the walkie talkie. I should know but I don't. Then we saw the cops down La Guma, and I was like, "Holy shit, this is really happening."
What were your orders, the ones that Rod Baker had given to everyone? And when did it get set up, what you did on La Guma Avenue?
Well, I didn't have anything to do with all that, I was an under, you know, I was just in. But I know they drove stuff over in cars to put all along there, boards and whatnot. This was like the day before, during the day, and Tom Tom went to the meeting that Rod Baker had and he explained the plan to me and a couple other guys after that. I was way down the chain. All we were told to do was when the cops came, dig in and shoot. Don't go nowhere.
Don't leave, no matter what happened?
Nobody said that, nobody said stay till you get ripped up, we had to decide for ourselves what to do.
Who was in charge?
Okay. Go ahead.
I saw those shapes up the street and I said, "Is that them?" and someone said "Yeah!" At first, just a half a minute in the beginning, nobody took a shot. We were trying to see what they were doing out there but they weren't coming any closer. So I assumed they were gonna go around the buildings and pop out in front of us. And I don't know why, but I felt more safe if I got in one of the cars like a few of the other guys did. I had to move a door out of the way to get in one, this big heavy door, and somebody yelled at me to stop moving around, I was making too much noise. I got in the back seat of the car but I left the door open so I wouldn't make too much. There was a big board in front of the car window but I could sort of stick my gun out and I felt good, I felt pretty protected. Then they started shooting.
It was they who started shooting first?
Oh yeah, I know because I never heard a sound like that before. It was all muffled. There was these tiny tiny flashes and it was like they had silencers. You couldn't even see the actual people, they were up against the buildings. They crept up but they were still so far away it was impossible to aim right. I just started shooting anyway, everybody did. Then I was scared because inside the car I couldn't see any of the other guys on the line. Then poink poink poink, some bullets hit the roof of the car I was in. That was the first time shots hit the cars. And I ain't afraid to say it, I flew about three feet back on the seat I was so freaked. Everybody started yelling, once they started they never stopped, just screaming like crazy, and laughing too. Not laughing 'cause it was funny, but nuts kind of laughing. We just tore up the street for ten whole seconds and Tom Tom was yelling at us to stop because we weren't hitting anything and we only had so much ammo. Still some of the guys didn't really stop when they should have. That first part went on for like five minutes, and I got out of the car, because those SWAT guys were getting too close. Before all I could see was these shadows and little tiny lights in their barrels but when I could see faces I backed out.
Where did you go from there?
I tripped going backwards right over that door. I fell on the street, and it was kind of a good thing I did, because I missed a cop getting hit. I got up and Tom Tom was going "There it is! There it is!" real excitedly, shaking his head all weird, 'cause he'd gotten a cop. I looked over the cars and this guy was seriously running on his knees, he was on his knees in the street and he was trying to move as fast as he could like that toward the sidewalk, banging his knees on the ground like he had no feet and no ankles, like a cripple would do, 'cause he'd gotten hit some way where he couldn't get back up all the way. Nobody shot at him again, far as I could tell, he got out of sight.
It got so loud after that, the cops started shooting more and we did too and I was thinking This is so wrong, we're all gonna die here, we're gonna run out of bullets in about thirty seconds. There'd be one cop somewhere, then you'd see two more, then five more, shifting positions and all that, and all we were doing was staying still and shooting. Then I saw at the end of the line one of our guys crawling out from under one of the cars real slow. I couldn't tell who it was. I ran that way and I got pretty close and I froze when there was this sound, this huge, huge CRACK, and I have no idea what the hell that was, one of those things they throw that makes a huge sound maybe, like ten guns going off at exactly the same time. Like ten feet from me, it sounded like. No clue what that was. But my whole body just got this shock from it, that's how loud it was. I got down real low and I saw this guy, I didn't know his name. I mean he was a brother, that I knew, but I wasn't sure what his name was, I knew most everybody but not all of them. He was out from under the car and he was on his hands and knees and moaning real weird and he started throwing up, but he was throwing up blood, a whole mess of it all at once, it just poured out of his mouth all at once like it all wanted out of him. All that shooting and I still heard it hit the street, splash, clear as day. He was dead in like five seconds. I was all out of bravery right then, that's when I was done. I was done with the whole thing.
Herman Lentwich, age 44
When the ATF made their move behind the barricade and came up the rear, the Spiders panicked, so we hit them hard, we started pouring fire, and we charged them, and a few of them started running right where we wanted them to but some of them were so confused and slow that we got way too close, we had men right at the line of cars, firing at guys fifteen feet away, and we had someone take a bad contusion to the head because one of the Spiders threw his Colt at him, hit him in the face. We were too aggressive.
But this only after a half hour of fighting there.
Yeah, it took a long time. The Spiders were occupying everyone around the neighborhood, guys couldn't just break away, little by little we had to bring men in to Fourth Street, and finally we had enough and had reduced the Spiders enough to end it. And after that, we had about thirty seconds to regroup and call for medical help and figure out where we were going to go next.
How many Spiders died there?
I'm not sure anymore. I really do not know.
And still no one on the other side had died.
No, I don't believe so. So at that point it was still worth it.
When wasn't it worth it, when how many from the police died?
One. One. There was no reason to lose anybody for that goddamn fucking nightmare. Excuse me.
There were fights all over the place, they kept sending cops in from every direction in Humvees but we just kept running and shooting, running and shooting, everyone just spread out and tried to do whatever they could, just keep it going. You just ran till you saw someone, and then you tried to take them out or go in another direction. I was going along and somebody high up in one of the buildings was trying to give me these hand signals and I just screamed up at him "What?" He was trying to tell me not to go into the next block and instead of just yelling it down he was trying to signal it. Some of us guys were trying to do it the way Rod wanted us to do it, but most of us were going on our own. It was better that way. If they had to track us all down one by one and if they thought that everywhere they went there was one crazy fucker to shoot at them, and they couldn't tell when he was gonna start shooting, then that was good. It was trying to be all regimented and following orders that got people killed faster than just keeping your eyes open for what was happening next. So I didn't care where Rod went, the way he set things up was good, but it didn't mean anything after about a half hour.
Why didn't you ever think about just running for it or hiding if you were so convinced there was no way out of it?
'Cause that's the thing, I didn't care what happened to me, if I was gonna die, it was gonna be because they killed me, and if they killed me, the world would know that they came in there and did it. So that was fine with me, live, die, either way, it felt good to be doing something huge. But I knew I wasn't gonna die, even when I got shot, I knew I was gonna make it. I always knew nothing really bad could happen to me.
What were you doing in the building where you got shot?
I thought they were gonna burn the Worship Center, I saw guys going that way and I wanted to see if it was gonna go up. But then I left, I came out and got shot.
Herman Lentwich, age 44
A friend of mine lost most of a hand in one of the buildings where they'd cornered two of them. They chased them down the hall and into one of the apartments and they tried to shove their way in, which wasn't smart but they were pretty confident that these two weren't armed. And my friend shoved his arm through the door and threw his weight against it and one of them inside the apartment pinned his arm against the side of the door and cut three of his fingers off with a machete. And he got in a second later and he shot both of the people inside there before he saw his fingers on the floor. Neither one of them, the men inside, were Street Spiders, though. They had nothing to do with the gang.
Miriam Bates, age 50, East-West Street, Glen Elm
Were they all gang members, the ones who fought the police?
No, you know, some of the people who fought were just these homeless people who didn't have guns or anything, they just decided to fight, and I think they all died, everyone who just joined in. People who had never left.
You'd see them running and they weren't wearing the Spider colors. The Spiders were all wearing their colors, every last one of them, but then you'd see someone once in a while without them and you knew right away these people were no one in particular, they were just there, living there in the abandoned buildings. Some of them threw rocks but most of them were harmless. Some threw rocks at the Spiders, too, they were so confused, they didn't even know what was happening. They just wanted to get out of there. You learned real fast to differentiate between who was dangerous and who wasn't, because you just didn't have the time to deal with the ones who weren't. Who knows how many of them were arrested, and how many just managed to lay low and then wander out of the Joke when it was all over. Maybe none of them got out without getting arrested. If they were charged with anything severe, I can't say I ever heard about it. Some of them probably never even went out, they just heard it all going on and maybe looked out the windows, I don't know, but I myself saw maybe a dozen of those people. Some of them were crazy, you could tell.
Linda Evenfair, age 32, Viola Street, Glen Elm
Homeless people getting guns, shooting at the police. Even though they were homeless they fought back against the invasion. And of course the police killed them all, it didn't matter if they were completely innocent of anything, they slaughtered everyone who was there. They wound up killing homeless people. And none of them got a single day in jail for it, of course, because the court system was so corrupt in their favor, they managed to bury everything, all the evidence, it all got tainted. So they're all out there walking around today, knowing what they did. I hope they burn in hell.
There was this fire in a window on the first story somewhere, somebody got ahead of themselves and started burning the building down, and just for no reason I steered over there and ran right underneath that window where the fire was coming out, all this fire, I ducked my head and went right underneath, I cleared it by about a foot, FOOOOOOM, and it was so hot and so loud, like someone punched me in the back with a big burning hot hand, it was like I was purified all of a sudden, that's all I want to remember from the whole thing, the two seconds right there. I felt like I could do no wrong then, you know?
Michael P. Portsmouth, age 49
The Humvee dropped us off on 12th Street beside what I guess was the central office of the place, the housing authority, this three story building that was totally gated down, not even the Spiders could have gotten in. It was me and five other guys, we went in three different directions in twos, and I and Hersch were going straight down 12th when Lieutenant Donaldson radioed me and told me to stop where I was because all hell was breaking loose down on Fourth street, where those cars were all lined up. He told me to hold our position for just a minute while he figured out who was going where. So I was standing there with Hersch behind me and I noticed some movement across the block and up one block. I saw just someone's head peering out from around the corner of one of the apartment buildings about fifty yards away. The head would peek out and then it would disappear again, like someone was looking at us in these split second clips. It was a pattern, there was ten seconds of nothing and then the head would appear. I couldn't see anything about it, it was just a shadow because of the lack of light. I heard Hersch say behind me "I see it" and we just stood there, waiting for something to happen. Hersch had his night goggles on but I didn't because I never liked that weird unreal sense they used to give you before they perfected them, they messed with my depth perception, I didn't like them, and it cost me bad there. Because while I was so focused on that head and when it was going to pop out next from behind the building, Hersch yelled "Left!" and I turned my head and one of the Spiders was just standing right against a building on 12th, right out on the sidewalk in the open, he'd been creeping up on us all that time. I shouted "Police!" but there was no reaction, so we both got shots off before the guy got his gun up and he went down, and I turned back quick to look in my original direction and for maybe full two seconds I didn't see anything, so I figured the guy over there hadn't made a move, but then all of a sudden he just kind of appeared running at us in the street from behind that building. It was so dark that for two seconds I didn't see him at all, he had camouflaged with the building. He was right there, dead center in my vision, nothing could be more obvious, and my eyes were slow to make out this object running at us, and he got a shot off and we dropped him, or I should say Hersch did, since he was quicker. The guy's bullet went right past Hersch's head. I couldn't believe how bold these guys had been, and how stupid too, to be so obvious. Lieutenant Donaldson called me again and the first thing he said after he asked if we were okay was, "Don't bother identifying yourself, everyone here knows we're here, you're just going to get yourself killed." He actually heard me shout out because he was one block over. He said over the radio, "Do you see us yet?" and I honestly didn't. My eyes just weren't getting it done. So he made me put my goggles on. The first thing I really saw when I had them adjusted was that the guy who had charged us wasn't a Spider, he was just some guy. Jeans and a sweatshirt. There was a baseball bat near his body so I assume it was his and that's all he had. After it was all over I heard that guy had all kinds of tracks on his arms and he was just some drug addict who had decided to fight.
Tom Tom just kept saying "Come on, come on" to me, we were running down some street, probably 13th, we were way up there, and I had no idea where we were going. He was taking all these turns. Finally we got inside a building, the school building. Not really a school, you know which one it was. We took a breather. I kept asking him a bunch of stupid questions, like what are we gonna do next, are we gonna try to hook up with some other guys, all that, and he just kept telling me to shut up. We couldn't hear much on the street. After a couple minutes he said we should go upstairs, so I followed him up to these classrooms. He went in the first one we saw like he knew where he was going. He said, "Check this out," and on a counter there was this huge box from Circuit City, like to put a big TV in. I couldn't see much of anything but if I stuck my head almost inside the damn box I could. And there were these guns in there, five or six big-looking things, except they weren't even guns at all. They looked like big dumb water guns, actually. I said, "What the hell's these?" and Tom Tom said, "Grenade launchers, forty millimeter, they got sights, they're like four pounds, the fuckin' Navy Seals use these. We can get stuff three football fields away." And I said, "Jesus, man, why are these sitting here, how come we ain't usin' em'?" And he said, "We were supposed to, we're supposed to bust the place apart and then blow up the Worship Center if things go to shit, but we don't know where the ammo is. It's in a different box and nobody can find the shit. Somebody screwed up."
Ian Berry, age 56
I was under the impression, and keep in mind I was just a member of the team, I wasn't high up or anything, that they took a long time to figure out what kind of part the ATF was going to play, since they didn't seem to trust us with not destroying the cases they wanted to have after it was all done and through. They didn't trust us not to go in and trample everything and make all kinds of mistakes, and maybe that was why we really went in after dark, because they couldn't get settled on what the roles were going to be. The FBI had their own hostage recovery team there, too, and they wound up not even getting into it. There was some definite confusion. But that's just from the feeling I got when we were getting ready, and like I said, you can't trust my mind from that night, because I was in a bad way. Looking back a couple of years afterward I could see that I was in the middle of my breakdown, and that night came at the worst possible time for me. So it all comes back to me now in a haze. I can't even get down the timing of it, what the order of things was and how I saw them. The night seemed to go on forever, but if you look at a chart of the sequence of events, not that much happened really.
I didn't know if I should maybe take myself off the team in the very beginning because when we went in, I was in a panicked state and I couldn't control it. I was matched up with two other guys and we didn't see anything for a while, then we got shifted over to one of the apartment buildings and we were told to go in and clear it out and leave one man back, and he would wait there for anything to come past. I was hoping that guy would be me, I volunteered for it right away before it could be assigned, and the other guys were fine with it, they wanted to get their boots down and get going. We went through this apartment building and on the second floor the other guys were a few doors ahead of me and a Spider came running out of a door and they tackled him and pinned him. I was slow getting there, it felt like my legs were made out of iron, it really did, that's how I was getting. I was scared. We went through the whole place just about and when we decided it was clear, I was left behind with this Spider, this really skinny guy with acne and an Afro, we cuffed him to a radiator inside the apartment he ran out of and I stayed there. He didn't say a word. But what did we do with him? That's how confusing it was, we could lock people down here and there but we couldn't drag them out because it was too far and we weren't supposed to call for someone to come get them because it was still too dangerous.
I heard laughing from way down deep in the building at one point and I had to leave the room and go out in the hallway and listen some more. It was definitely coming from inside the building, this high-pitched, freaky laugh that seemed meant to get in my head. Someone knew we'd been there and maybe they knew I still was. Then there was a sharp pounding on some pipes from down below, three whacks all in a row, and another laugh. So I made my way down the hallway, I didn't even use my flashlight. I went in the dark. I didn't think that maybe the Spider we'd cuffed might be signaling one of his friends in some way, or vice versa. It didn't occur to me just then.
I went past a door that was slightly open, and I nudged it open to make sure no one was in there, and nobody was, but inside this big empty room, someone's living room I guess it used to be, was a huge mural on one wall, in black paint, and it was the strangest thing I ever saw. It looked like a crucifix but it had all kinds of snakes and stars all over it, and on the floor was a bunch of bones which must have been animal bones. There was a rib cage on the floor, not a clean one either, and the animal must have been a cow or something, it was big. And I went out of there before I could read the writing that someone had scrawled on the floor all around the rib cage, in a circle so that all the bones were tucked inside it, like a fence. I went out of there and I was sweating and getting dizzy, I needed to get out of the building, I needed to get out of the whole area. I was breaking down bad. What the hell had I just been looking at? I didn't know and I never talked to anyone about it, ever.
I was radioed and told to watch for three more guys coming my way to pick up the one we locked down. When they came they told me I was supposed to clear out and join a team on Seventh Street near the YMCA. And I told them I just needed to catch my breath, and I stayed behind. I stayed there for almost fifteen minutes. That got me into trouble. I didn't even tell them that I'd heard someone on a lower floor. By the time I went out I didn't even care about that, I just wanted to survive and get home and maybe I'd resign that night, because clearly I couldn't handle any of this anymore, I was going insane.
Time got strange. It was so long before it was over for me. I was in there for only two hours, but we just ran and stopped, ran and stopped. Some of that was before the thing inside the building, some of it was afterward, I can't tell you what came when. At one point we stopped and we were told that one of our snipers was setting up on the block ahead of us and we should keep out of sight. I looked up through a pair of binoculars and I could actually see the sniper on top of one of the buildings, he was barely even keeping out of sight himself. When I craned my neck and looked left I saw a quick bit of movement on the top floor of a building across the street. I figured it must have been a person, a Spider. I kept looking but nothing seemed to happen, the rain just kept coming down and no one was letting us move. I looked left and right but there wasn't anything going on. A whole minute went by, I think, then two minutes. Then the sniper disappeared and we were radioed right away and someone said, "All right, we got him, you can move past." The sniper had taken the guy out. It was so smooth I didn't see a shot or hear anything at all.
There was a burning door at one point, I recall a burning door falling from a high window down onto the street. They had set it on fire and pushed it off a balcony, and we sent a lot of ammo up there but we didn't hit anything. The door just crashed onto the sidewalk in little pieces and the pieces kept burning.
I was in terrible shape near the end. No one shot at me, but I heard stories from everyone who had gotten shot at at least once. I wouldn't have been able to defend myself properly. What it felt like was someone wrapping a blanket around my mind and squeezing it, little by little. That was the last time I was on the squad, and I was out entirely, out of law enforcement, in six months.
We were called over to the Worship Center, I remember that happened as soon as it stopped drizzling for just a minute, I was told to get five or six men together and get over there, but because of the barricade we had split off and I had to get two men who were just running by. Someone yelled out "Action left!" and I spun around and it was so dark we couldn't tell who it was, they nearly got shot. I didn't even know where they were coming from, things had broken down so much. It was all totally different looking at the place on a map and being down there in that fog and the dark and an occasional shot stopping everyone in their tracks. There was a lot of confusion. We started moving toward what we thought was Eighth Street but then this young guy, Jack, yelled out that we were going the wrong way. So we had to turn around, and we got lucky that no one was shooting at us right then. We made it over to Eighth without encountering any resistance and the Worship Center was there. From the outside it basically looked like a big post office or something like that. I saw one of those candles that you'd see all around the Joke, painted on the side of it, it must have been ten feet high. We went in, the entrance doors were actually gone so the place was wide open, rain was getting in there. You could smell that gasoline smell right inside the front entrance, the lobby area. And it was dark, of course.
Another team was on the other side of the building and they went in that way and we were going to meet in the center of the place and secure it. But when we went in and the gas smell got stronger, there wasn't anything stopping anyone from torching the whole place and burning us all to a crisp, because there was gasoline dumped everywhere. I almost couldn't enter the main arena part of the place because when we opened the doors to it the stench was overpowering, it just sucked the air out of the place. And the thought that someone could toss a match and kill us was right there in my mind. Most everyone had a flashlight and inside the place was really no different from being in a basketball stadium or someplace like that. There were rows and rows of seats on every side, divided into big sections, stadium seating, and in the middle was a raised stage with a giant gold cross. I didn't even get to the middle when I had to turn around and get out of there, I nearly passed out from the gasoline fumes. It gave you an awful headache and you couldn't even hear what anyone was saying because of the echo. We kept kicking gas cans they had left behind. But we had to make sure there was no one anywhere inside to torch the place. You couldn't spend more than five minutes inside, so we had to rotate. If a guy was overcome, he would wave someone else in. Ten men searching this whole huge pitch dark building, shining flashlights down the rows, checking the bathrooms, going into the back rooms. The smell was worst right in the middle, at the stage, and not as bad in the office and the lobby. That was twenty minutes, making sure the place was secure. By the end of the twenty minutes my head was splitting and I had to throw up. Everyone got like that. Obviously they'd had a plan to burn the place up, they just got a ton of gas cans from somewhere and poured it all over the place, and it had mostly dried but I'll never forget how sick I got.
We couldn't take a chance that a single Spider would get anywhere near it. So that was sixty men, right there, that had to stand and wait in the rain for a chemical tanker, they had to call the state Forest Service to get it. Then they still couldn't leave. We had one fire still going over in Building T and we had to assume that other buildings had been booby-trapped like that, so dozens and dozens of men had to come in just to secure the buildings. That took forever. That was where all the manpower really went, to make sure the entire Joke wasn't one big bomb waiting for someone to light a match. Nobody shot at us, though, at the Worship Center. One Molotov cocktail might have caused a total disaster, but they never got the chance to do it. They never had just one or two guys just stay there and if we got too close, boom. So that was a miracle.
I was standing outside facing the street, just getting my breath and figuring out the coverage we'd need outside the building, and trying to call in for some kind of vehicles, whatever we could get, to ring around the place, because what I thought we needed was to make a huge presence known there so they wouldn't get the idea to just charge us. I was asking for anything they could give me. Ambulances, whatever it took, to at least make it seem like we had the building under total control. And then I was called away to the command center, which had been set up on....I want to say Fifteenth, in a construction trailer. It was there because they were building some strip mall outside the Joke.
They wanted me to supervise the chopper search. I took a man with me, no one was going alone anywhere in that place, and we got in a Humvee, headed off for the command center, and it seemed like there was absolutely nothing going on in that quadrant of the Joke, it was silent, no movement, so the Spiders had abandoned all those buildings. We were moving real fast, though, still, because obviously we weren't taking any chances. The only life we saw was the rats. There was a garbage dump on Parks and nobody'd been by to pick up the trash for days, maybe weeks, and someone told me rats absolutely swarmed from there. I saw what must have been about fifty of them. And then I saw that tree that they'd described to us. I'd never seen it before. That was the only time I felt this horrible sadness when I was there, I don't know why that triggered it. It might have been that in the middle of all these lousy, infested buildings I suddenly saw something that was actually created by someone's hands, something that someone cared about, and it had been left all alone, no one was ever going to see it anymore. And that branch looked like an arm reaching up toward the sky. I was seeing it like no one else ever would, with no electric light making it seem different. It looked like a giant tree out in nature somewhere, it didn't look artificial at all, not when everything was dark, like it gets dark in the mountains. It went in and out of my sight, it got blocked out behind another building we were passing. I never went back inside, I was up in a chopper from then on.
Senator John D'Acquisto
Kojo Kendi was somewhat of a media figure then, and if he wanted to get on the airwaves, he could usually manage it, though most of the time his comments weren't aired in many places because he was considered an extremist and his group hadn't managed to accomplish much besides forceful civil disobedience on various levels. But in the middle of the fighting, around 7:30 p.m., he managed to get ten or fifteen reporters around him on Nell Street so he could make a statement. The press couldn't get into the Joke, obviously, so they were looking for something solid they could air, and here came Kojo Kendi, appearing from nowhere, and of course they're going to fill in their coverage with anything he had to say. Now around this very same time, almost to the minute, Rod Baker's second in command, Elias Snowden, was spending absolutely precious calling Kendi to plead for the people in the Resistance Intent to do one thing only, which was disrupt the barricades along Fifteenth Street so the Spiders could get out. Not only had Kendi totally ignored Rod Baker's original request for help, he wasn't answering Snowden's calls. The thinking then, and still today, was that at some critical point Kendi realized how immense the danger of the situation was to himself, so he never approved any action toward the request he had gotten from Rod Baker. He probably knew he also was looking at a long term of imprisonment if the Intent got involved in any way. What he saw on TV must have changed his mind. He had called two of his associates in the Resistance Intent—this is Horace X. Johnson and Griffin Polk I'm talking about, they did the basic day to day work—and told them of the situation and they had both personally expressed a willingness to get involved in this, to fight, and the ability to get something organized fast if necessary. So it was doable, they really could have done it. And then Kendi just never gave them the OK. He told them they had to wait. The contact between the people who had to be involved became nil, he told them to wait for his next order, which just never came.
It was just survival to Kendi. It wasn't the optimum time to commit these acts. There was nothing in it for him except risk. So on the one hand, he had inflated the abilities of the Intent and led Rod Baker to believe that they were going to get help. Then when Rod Baker vanished somewhere in the Joke and Elias Snowden took over, he was calling the contact number he had, thinking that if help wasn't actually coming into the Joke, then at least it wasn't too late for the Intent to disrupt those barricades to give the Spiders an escape route. It was total desperation. Snowden saw that none of them was getting out, that every individual gunfight was going to end in death. They were looking to run for it. They didn't realize that gaps were opening up, especially on the west side near the old church, where some of them may have been able to make it out. How many seconds, though, how many agonizing ticks of the clock were lost with them believing someone would eventually answer that phone? We know that for the ones who got caught in that night's very last atrocity, it all came down to bare seconds in the end. Kendi appeared on the street two blocks from the Joke in a suit and tie, utterly oblivious to their plight. What he did do was get on television, which for him I'm sure was a major success. He didn't get arrested on TV, they wouldn't do that for him. They waited for him to finish his speech and then peacefully brought him in for questioning, lots of questioning about how he may have helped the Spiders, when what he'd actually done is utterly abandon them.
What we are seeing tonight is the fruition of a plan that began many months ago in the offices of the governor of this state, of this city's mayor, of its elected council, to rid the city of elements it deemed too poor, too needy, too sick, and too unworthy to accept into the mainstream. In invading Bello Gardens, they have announced to this country, and to the world, that they wish to divide the races once and for all, with black men and women and children confined to our slums and hospitals and prisons, and white citizens on the other side of the curtain, making sure that the benefits of social and economic freedom are shared only among their own kind. Their backroom diplomacy, corrupt redistricting, and financial improprieties have not been enough to ensure their vision of this city as a model of a white-owned future. So they have taken to violence to forcibly evict us from our homes and to set us out on the streets. When the deaths are finally counted, each one will be a testament to the sort of genocide I have long predicted would grow within the borders of a country supposedly founded on the notion that all men are created equal. I do not expect to live very long in this kind of state while my brothers are being murdered not one mile from where I stand. White America has now adopted a policy of death toward those who speak up for the civil rights guaranteed us by the Constitution of the United States. As a staunch and unafraid defender of those freedoms, I say to the Governor of Indiana, to the FBI, to the police force which has gone forward with the goal of annihilating any black man who would dare fight back against them: Here I am. Count me as just one more body, just one more soldier who you might cause to fall so your corruption and subversion of God's light can continue unabated.
Akili Chones, age 46, Terre Haute United States Penitentiary
Did Elias Snowden ever talk to you about Kojo Kendi when he came here?
Yeah, he said he wished he could've killed him.
Do you think he meant it?
At the time he said it, yeah, but let me explain this. That was Elias then, that's not who he is now. If I told you what he was doing now, if I told you what he became, which is a totally different person, you wouldn't believe me.
I'd believe you. A lot of people became different over the course of twenty years.
Yeah, I guess. I guess I'm not one of them.
He's doing well, Elias is? I know you can't say where he is.
Yeah, he's doing things you just couldn't believe, I mean, he's working with kids, he's keeping kids out of trouble, he has a lot to do with the church he goes to.
But back then, the first time he came to see you, he was a lot like he used to be.
Do you know what happened to Kojo Kendi?
He was forced out of the Resistance Intent and it ceased to exist about two years after the siege. He's in Washington, he's tried to run for city council. He changed, too, not totally, he's still identified with what he was, but he doesn't want to talk about those old days.
I guess he didn't die in the streets, then, huh? Wasn't that his dream or something? That's too bad.