Group that Protested NRA Over 'Violent' Rhetoric Embraces Convicted Cop Killer

Called NRA video 'direct endorsement of violence' but praised cop killer's 'anti-sexism work'

Activist Linda Sarsour and fellow gun-control activists participate in a march beginning at the headquarters of National Rifle Association
Linda Sarsour and fellow gun-control activists participate in a march beginning at the headquarters of the National Rifle Association / Getty Images
July 19, 2017

The group behind last week's protest against the National Rifle Association over rhetoric it claimed was a "direct endorsement of violence" wished a convicted cop killer and fugitive a happy birthday on Monday.

"Happy birthday to the revolutionary #AssataShakur!" the verified Twitter account for the Women's March tweeted. "Today's #SignOfResistance, in Assata's honor, is by @Meloniousfunk."

The tweet included a painting of Assata Shakur, also known as Joanne Chesimard, with the slogan "A woman's place is in the struggle."

The Women's March praise for Chesimard came less than a week after the group organized a protest of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in large part due to a video the gun organization produced. The video, which criticized resistance to the Trump administration and protests that have repeatedly turned violent across the country, was specifically cited as a key motivator for the protest, and the Women's March demanded the NRA take it down. "Recent actions by the NRA demonstrate not only a complete disregard for the lives of black and brown people in America—your fellow citizens—but appear to be a direct endorsement of violence against these citizens exercising their constitutional right to protest," a letter from Tamika D. Mallory, co-president of the Women's March, to the NRA read. "You are calling for our grassroots, nonviolent resistance movement to be met with violence."

While critics of the video have taken issue with its metaphorical call to "fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth," the video does not include any call to actual violence.

Chesimard was the first woman to be added to the FBI's Most Wanted list and was last spotted in Cuba after escaping prison in 1979. As a member of the Black Liberation Army, Chesimard is believed to have committed a number of felonies including bank robbery. She was convicted of first-degree murder in connection with a May 2, 1973, shootout between her group and New Jersey State Police.

Trooper Werner Foerster was shot and killed at point-blank range after the Black Liberation Army members attacked him and another state trooper. The other trooper was injured in the exchange of fire but managed to shoot and kill one of the attackers. Chesimard and the other Black Liberation Army member were both eventually convicted of Foerster's murder and sentenced to life in prison. The other surviving Black Liberation Army member remains incarcerated.

"Joanne Chesimard is a domestic terrorist who murdered a law enforcement officer execution-style," Aaron Ford, special agent in charge of the FBI's Newark Division, said during the announcement that Chesimard would be added to the Most Wanted list in 2013.

"This crime was always considered an act of domestic terrorism," Mike Rinaldi, a lieutenant in the New Jersey State Police and member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, said during the same 2013 announcement. "This case is just as important today as it was when it happened 40 years ago. Bringing Joanne Chesimard back here to face justice is still a top priority."

Chesimard's escape from prison was a highly orchestrated event carried out by other domestic terrorists, according to law enforcement officials. "Armed domestic terrorists gained entry into the facility, neutralized the guards, broke her free, and turned her over to a nearby getaway team," Rinaldi said.

After receiving backlash over their tweet celebrating Chesimard's birthday, the Women's March verified Twitter account issued a chain of 20 tweets explaining their embrace of the domestic terrorist. During the tweetstorm, they insisted the Women's March is "a nonviolent movement" and promised to "never use violence to achieve our goals." However, the group said, though Chesimard's "resistance tactics were different from ours," it doesn't mean the group doesn't "respect her anti-sexism work."

The tweetstorm went on to claim that Chesimard's "resistance work" took place in an environment where the FBI was "killing her friends and colleagues." The group then claimed that after her arrest, Chesimard was "tortured" and the terms of her imprisonment were akin to "using rape as legal punishment for a crime."

The group also complained that Chesimard was added to the FBI Most Wanted list in 2013 despite not being charged with any new crime beyond her original crimes of bank robbery, escaping prison, and murdering a police officer.

"We say all this not to say that [Chesimard] has never committed a crime, and not to endorse all of her actions," the tweetstorm ends. "We say this to demonstrate the ongoing history of government & right-wing attempts to criminalize and discredit political activists."

The FBI said it would continue to treat the case as active: "This is an active investigation and will continue as such until Chesimard is apprehended," Rinaldi said.