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May 29, 2004

Art Attack

The following story, entitled “FBI Abducts Artist Steve Kurtz, Seizes Art,” was picked up from the Bay Area IndyMedia. Besides his background described below, Kurtz is the author of several books, including “Electronic Civil Disobedience” and “Digital Resistance.”

FEAR RUN AMOK

Steve Kurtz is Associate Professor in the Department of Art at the State University of New York’s University at Buffalo, and a member of the internationally-acclaimed Critical Art Ensemble.

Kurtz’s wife, Hope Kurtz, died in her sleep of cardiac arrest in the early morning hours of May 11. Police arrived, became suspicious of Kurtz’s art supplies and called the FBI.

Within hours, FBI agents had “detained” Kurtz as a suspected bioterrorist and cordoned off the entire block around his house. (Kurtz walked away the next day on the advice of a lawyer, his “detention” having proved to be illegal.) Over the next few days, dozens of agents in hazmat suits, from a number of law enforcement agencies, sifted through Kurtz’s work, analyzing it on-site and impounding computers, manuscripts, books, equipment, and even his wife’s body for further analysis. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Health Department condemned his house as a health risk.

Kurtz, a member of the Critical Art Ensemble, makes art which addresses the politics of biotechnology. “Free Range Grains,” CAE’s latest project, included a mobile DNA extraction laboratory for testing food products for possible transgenic contamination. It was this equipment which triggered the Kafkaesque chain of events.

FBI field and laboratory tests have shown that Kurtz’s equipment was not used for any illegal purpose. In fact, it is not even possible to use this equipment for the production or weaponization of dangerous germs. Furthermore, any person in the US may legally obtain and possess such equipment.

“Today, there is no legal way to stop huge corporations from putting genetically altered material in our food,” said Defense Fund spokeswoman Carla Mendes. “Yet owning the equipment required to test for the presence of ‘Frankenfood’ will get you accused of ‘terrorism.’ You can be illegally detained by shadowy government agents, lose access to your home, work, and belongings, and find that your recently deceased spouse’s body has been taken away for ‘analysis.’”

Though Kurtz has finally been able to return to his home and recover his wife’s body, the FBI has still not returned any of his equipment, computers or manuscripts, nor given any indication of when they will. The case remains open.

This page at the rtmark website has been set up for donations to his legal defense fund.

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