May 27, 2004

Art or Bio terrorism? Steve Kurtz was already suffering from one tragedy when he called 911 early in the morning to tell them his wife had suffered a cardiac arrest and died in her sleep. The police arrived and, cranked up on the rhetoric of the "War on Terror," decided Kurtz's art supplies were actually bioterrorism weapons.

Thus began an Orwellian stream of events in which FBI agents abducted Kurtz without charges, sealed off his entire block, and confiscated his computers, manuscripts, art supplies... and even his wife's body. Like the case of Brandon Mayfield, the Muslim lawyer from Portland imprisoned for two weeks on the flimsiest of false evidence, Kurtz's case amply demonstrates the dangers posed by the USA PATRIOT Act coupled with government-nurtured terrorism hysteria. Steve Kurtz is a member of the Critical Art Ensemble.

  • Thanks for this excellent post Mare. I had no idea there were laws to de-rail intellectuals in their work, let alone put them in prision. Not in Amerikkka. It is very disappointing to read of the circumstances of the arrest of Steve in light of the death of his partner. WHAT A SAD SHAME! I will post your link on my blog and get the word out in the Toronto arts community.Thanks. **Walks away, arms in the air, shaking head**
  • It's understandable that police, in today's fear-fueled climate, might misconstrue Kurtz's work. What's mind-boggling is that the law enforcement heirarchy hasn't had the balls to admit their mistake, and offer apologies and restitution. It seems the attention of embarrassing press does not have the effect it used to.
  • A guy at Hit & Run described how the investigation should have gone:
    “Sir, what do you do with this chemistry equipment?” “I use it in my art.” “Please tell me about your art.” “Well, in this room are a couple of examples you can look at, and it’s being shown in this museum and that art gallery.” “Cool. Sir, can we be of further assistance?”
  • Wish this were incredible. The passage of the Patriot Act was incredible, but it happened, and now the USA is stuck with the horrid consequences. No doubt it will have to get worse before it gets better, so more poor bastards will have to undergo these paranoid and senseless actions -- until eventually a widepread outcry against the Patriot Act occurs. The only way to get rid of a bad law is to enforce it. *Shudders*
  • The sunny side of this is that there's nothing legislative that can't be undone. The cloudy side, of course, is that there's nothing about what's happening to this poor bastard that can. I agree with Zed -- totally understandable that their initial scan of the place made them nervous. It would have scared me, too. But good God, what happened to police work? Investigate the guy's story, ask around if he's done art like this before. If you're wrong, let the guy go. But Zed, I disagree about your "bad press" comment (respectfully, of course): This has gotten almost no press, as evidenced by the urls for these two links and the fact that we're getting this from MoFi and not CNN or the NY Times or any of the big three networks. In truth, it kind of makes me wonder if it's fake.
  • It doesn't sound to far out to be true, but Google only turned up one recognizable news source, Newsday. And the paypal donation goes to an organization called RTMark. And there is no word about this guys' plight on their site. Looks like a scam to me.
  • Good detective work. I'm not even going to try to type your name.
  • Could it be that someone is trying to cash in on our objections to the Climate of Fear? No matter the situation, someone will find a way to take advantage of it. Either way, it is sickening.
  • In truth, it kind of makes me wonder if it's fake Good point- the Newsday article was attributed to the Associated Press, but their site had nothing. I guess we wait for some eager reporter to follow up on this, or Kurtz to make a statement.
  • Two radio stations (WBKB and WBEN) in western NY and this and a cached article in The Buffalo News when I googled just now.
  • Future. Boot. Face. Forever.
  • Given the lack of information and mainstream media coverage regarding the tragic chain of events, I contacted Carla Mendes at the given e-mail at RTMark. I had been wondering if this was perhaps a hoax, or performance. She had a spokes person reply. "At 5:24 PM -0700 5/27/04, Hello Carla; I am sending you this e-mail to inquire about any details you might have that have not been published on- line as of yet. There is debate at the moment within some online communities as to the authenticity of the unfortunate events that have taken place in regards to Steve Kurtz, and the passing of his partner. The news sources available at the moment are fragmented at best. Can you confirm that this is not a hoax or an art performance and is indeed true. I am not a reporter. I am an artist from Toronto, with a blog and am a member of numerous web communities that have posted the story, such as Metafilter et al. If true my deepest condolences to Steve and family, and friends. Thank you for your time. The response: Date: Thu, 27 May 2004 22:57:57 -0400 To: From: "Frank Guerrero" Subject: Re: Carla Mendes Hello- I am going to step in and answer because carla is setting up a show at Mass Moca right now. This is not a hoax. There are news sources out there... there has been no major national news, perhaps because steve can't talk to the press. but here is one local story: WGRZ this event was covered in over fifty local TV news stories in buffalo... Anyway, sorry to say its true FRank." So I think at this point we won't hear much more until Steve makes a public statement.......And yes, its a ditto post from mefi. ;)~
  • Hmm. I've got a buddy in Rochester; he might have heard something about it. I'm not quite convinced yet, given that this is coming from the organization that's receiving the paypal donations. Any Monkeys in Buffalo?
  • Here's what my buddy had to say (the "Sam" and "Miles" refs come from The Maltese Falcon, in case any of you don't come down from the trees): Ok Sam, Here's the skinny, see. The incident was reported in Buffalo on more than one site. [ed. note: the article is listed there, but requires a membership to view] being one of them. My contacts inform me that while it was reported, it was also quickly forgotten. Evidently the artist is a professor at Univ. of Buffalo, I haven't checked that out yet. So it looks on the up 'n up and may indeed be something that should be more widely investigated. Don't you feel more Patriotic under said act? God BleSS the USA. Let me know what happens, Miles
  • The page has been updated: "This morning, May 30, two members of the Critical Art Ensemble were subpoenaed by the FBI. The FBI, we now know, will seek to indict Steve Kurtz before a grand jury on June 15, on unknown charges."
  • Thanks for the update. I Have a feeling this is going to mutate into somthing very ugly. Hopefully updates with more factual info will come soon.
  • It's still going - the CAE Defense Fund is tracking this. As of September 21, the judge has postponed any pre-trial decisions for a month. He has now been charged with wire fraud: according to this article
    after clearing Kurtz of suspicion in his wife's death and finding nothing to support their suspicion of bioterrorism, the authorities charged him and Robert Ferrell, a friend and geneticist at the University of Pittsburgh, with four counts of wire and mail fraud, claiming that they illegally obtained harmless bacteria from an industrial supplier. A guilty finding could mean as much as 20 years in federal prison.
  • Here's is the most recent thread of three on the history of this poor guy's predicament. And this is the second, which I think disappeared in the Collective Amnesia when we temporarily lost our archives. This thread is the original.
  • Thanks beeswacky - sorry I missed the other two.
  • Hs trial's been dragging on for months and months now. Homeland Security got into the act early on and won't let go, but there seems to be little or no actual case against either Kurtz or Farrell. There was never any question about Kurtz' wife's death being from natural causes. However, the Feds freaked when once 'biologicval materials' were discovered in the house, these being the stuff with which the Critical Arts Ensemble works, their medium of expression. Homeland Security was in a wad over this -- the only charges which they could finally bring seem to be this of mail fraud with respect to the way the said biological materials were obtained, and even this seems very dubious. Kurtz' lawyer says it's come down to intimidation on the part of the Feds.
  • Of course it has. If they can't make anything stick, they wind up with major egg on their faces.
  • They've already got major egg on their faces; this is the malice of the sad, pathetic and incompetent.
  • Update on Brandon Mayfield, who was mentioned at the top of this thread.
  • Has anyone heard anything recent about the progress of the Steve Kurtz/Critical Ensemble charges?