Camera crews and major news networks were on the scene hours before the scheduled lecture “The Great Western Massachusetts Sedition Trial: 20 years later.” Protesters from various police organizations and civilians gathered on the Haigis Mall of the University of Massachusetts to protest the lecture, including a weeping Donna Lamonoco, wife of the New Jersey state trooper killed by members of the United Freedom Front.
The lecture, originally slated to include Ray Luc Levasseur, former leader of the United Freedom Front, was forced to continue without Levasseur because of the U.S. parole board’s decision to prevent him from crossing state lines as part of his parole restrictions.
“We are here to protest the fact that they are bringing a domestic terrorist to campus,” said Rick Brown, President of the State Police Association of Massachusetts. “There is no justification their actions, they are responsible for bombing over twenty buildings, and their organization is responsible for the murder of a New Jersey police officer and attempted murder of two Massachusetts state police officers.”
Although Donna Lamonoco and members of the police were invited into the lecture to speak according to the organizers of the event they chose not to.
Just after 7 p.m. a group of protesting police officers filed in and gathered holding signs condemning the lecture. The UMass police department told everyone to sit during the presentation, which was marked by civility from all sides.
The room was filled to capacity with students, protesters, citizens and camera crews flanking the aisles of the large lecture hall.
Sarah Lennox, UMass director of social thought and political economy, was first to address the packed room.
Lennox stated that she wanted the presentation to be an “informative discussion.”
“This event is a commitment to free speech,” Lennox said.
“I hope we learn a lot about how contested issues are.” she added before giving the podium over to Bill Newman, director of the American Civil Liberties Union office in Western Massachusetts.
“There have been great defeats, but also great victories for the first amendment and freedom of speech,” said Newman. “When censorship wins freedom of speech is shredded.”
“Our opinions matter an enormous amount,” added Newman.
Bob Boyle, former defense attorney for Richard Williams, a co-defendant in the case, gave his perspective of the timeline of the trial and how it was learning experience for him as a young attorney.
Patricia Levasseur, Ray Levasseur and Richard Williams were involved in the longest and most expensive trial of Massachusetts history. The proceedings of the trial on seditious conspiracy lasted from 1987 through Nov. 1989. All three were acquitted on these charges.
Seditious conspiracy is not only included attempting to overthrow the government, but can entail the preventing of any execution of a law, according to Elizabeth Fink, defense attorney for the Levasseurs.
“As an attorney I was made to take an oath to serve and protect the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic,” Fink said. “[Including] against the American government.”
“If Ray was allowed to speak he would have blown you away,” Fink added. “He is a brilliant man.”
“Everyone needs to hear what everyone else has to say,” stated Fink, “It is the Constitution that makes us free.”
Barbara Hubbard, a juror for the case, who at the time taught remedial English spoke of her experience during the trial.
“These defendants had an awesome jury,” Hubbard said. “We heard hundreds of witnesses testify and we read and went through every piece of evidence.”
Although Hubbard was not allowed to speak to the Levasseurs during the trial she did write to both Pat and Ray Levasseur when they were incarcerated.
Rochelle Calhoun, a foreperson of the jury and dean at Mt. Holyoke, spoke after Hubbard.
“The real fight is for our freedoms and looking at things squarely,” said Calhoun. “It isn’t ok to not allow defendants their say.”
Next was Pat Levasseur co-defendant and ex-wife of Ray Levasseur. She spoke of her involvement with Ray Levasseur and how they came to be revolutionaries.
“In 1972 I hooked up with people against the war,” said Levasseur. “When Nixon told us the [Vietnam] war was over, and it became clear it wasn’t true we got angry.”
The Levasseurs in Maine as they both worked for a Prison Reform group. Soon they went underground with the rest of what became to be known as the United Freedom Front.
Members of this group have been convicted of multiple bombings throughout the northeast, a string of bank robberies, attempted murder of two Massachusetts state troopers and the murder of Phil Lamonoco.
“If nobody fought for what’s right we would be singing to the Queen instead of pledging allegiance to the flag,” said Levasseur. “I believe in my heart we were well intentioned.”
“I remember who I am and I understand who I was,” said Levasseur.
Fink in response to a question by a member of the audience stated that Ray has often said that his writings have been more affected than any of the violent acts the UFF committed.
Some of the crowd in support of the protesting police organizations voiced their concern to this reporter. The protestors felt that the fact they were invited was ridiculous and people were put in fear by the bombings by the UFF. Also they pointed out that the taxpayers had to pay for the damages to the buildings that were bombed.
Avin Weiswerda, an undergraduate at Hampshire College, gave her reaction to the presentation.
”I wish Ray had been here to speak,” said Weiswerda. “Its fine that the police came out to protest, everyone has the right to protest.”
“It was a wonderful opportunity to explore free speech and academic speech,” said Tom Lindeman a former minister at UMass. “The death of the New Jersey State trooper is a terrible loss, but that doesn’t justify shutting people up.”
After the presentation there were no protestors to be found on the Haigis Mall.
Bobby Hitt can be reached at [email protected]