Carl Rising-Moore conducts the Freedom Underground
Indianapolis activist Carl Rising-Moore didn’t help Brandon Hughey desert to Canada for purely political reasons. Rising-Moore did it because he saw a reflection of himself in this 18-year-old Army private from Texas. Like Hughey, Rising-Moore signed up for the Army in high school and was still a young soldier when he changed his mind about the morality of war. And, like Hughey, Rising-Moore was once so disillusioned with America that he considered suicide.
2/29/2004 Subject: Please help a desperate serviceman Carl Rising-Moore: I am a member of the U.S. military whose unit deploys to Iraq next week. I do not want to be a pawn in the government’s war for oil, and have told my superiors that I want out of the military. They are not willing to chapter me out and tell me that I have no choice but to pack my bags and get ready to go to Iraq. This has led me to feel hopeless and I have thought about suicide several times. However, just a few days ago I discovered some articles about you and Freedom Underground on the Internet, which gave me new hope. I am desperate enough that I would gladly leave the country if that’s what it meant to escape. I do not have much money, however, and would need a place to stay and help finding a job once I left the country. I pray that you or someone you know can help me. I am in Texas, I won’t tell you exactly where because I don’t know who could be reading this but I am willing to pack my bags and start driving to anywhere you tell me to go. I pray that you get this letter as my unit deploys next week and I don’t have much time. Please write back as soon as you can. God bless you and what you are doing. —Brandon Hughey “I just identified with him so much,” Rising-Moore told NUVO in a recent interview. “Brandon’s family was Republican like mine was. That’s all Brandon knew and that’s all I knew.” So, two days after receiving Hughey’s e-mailed plea, Rising-Moore shuttled the AWOL soldier to Canada, the country where Rising-Moore was born in 1946. (See “On the Road,” which follows this story.)
Graduating early to go kill communistsRising-Moore moved to Indianapolis from Saskatchewan before sixth grade and was soon “a brainwashed young man,” gung-ho about going to war. His teachers, starting in elementary school, “propped up” the then escalating war against communism in Vietnam. Early media coverage of the conflict also contributed to his zeal. So Rising-Moore left Shortridge High School as a junior to join the Army’s Special Forces. “I was convinced that we just had to go kill some communists in Vietnam to save the world,” Rising-Moore said.
After being stationed first in Germany, he volunteered for combat duty in Vietnam. Instead, the Army sent Rising-Moore to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. “I know now that it was a blessing because I’ve never yet met a brother who came back from Vietnam, and was in combat duty, who doesn’t experience some very serious post-traumatic-stress syndrome,” he said.
While at Fort Bragg, Rising-Moore talked with soldiers returning from Vietnam. They told him of the horrors they experienced there. The war’s body count, Rising-Moore learned, included many women, children and babies. “Once I started getting wind of the fact that there was a scam going on, I was so angry that I was about to be sent over there to lose my humanity or my life for some lies cooked up in the Johnson Administration,” Rising-Moore said. “I almost took off.”
But a conversation with his good friend at the base, Capt. Clinso Copeland, helped Rising-Moore decide to wait. “I told him I was leaving and he talked me out of it. He said, ‘I’ve been in the military more than 20 years and I never made it beyond captain because I’m black.’ He told me his sob story and I told him mine,” Rising-Moore recalled. “He said, ‘Hang in here, Carl. Do your year and then start fighting.’”
Rising-Moore didn’t offer the same advice to Hughey four decades later, though, because of the desperation of his situation. “I said, ‘You signed up, you’ve done your deal, but on consideration, you believe this war to be an illegal, immoral war — just like Vietnam,’” Rising-Moore said. “And he said, ‘That’s right.’”
According to Rising-Moore, the preemptive nature of the Iraq war makes it immoral and a violation of international law. He believes soldiers, like all citizens, have a responsibility to resist immoral wars. “In my mind, it goes back to the Nuremberg Trials [after World War II]. The [German] soldiers said, ‘We were just following orders from up above.’ The judges said, ‘No, every soldier has a responsibility to resist and to disobey — even to the point of imprisonment, or worse.’”
Fighting a personal warRising-Moore left the Army in 1967 with an honorable discharge and spent several years in a disillusioned search for himself. After briefly pursuing a career as a pilot, working as an ambulance driver and starting an animal ambulance service, Rising-Moore began traveling the world, first, in pursuit of becoming a better squash player. This took him to Pakistan, where squash is a national sport. There, Rising-Moore heard a story that made a lasting impression.
A man had asked a retiring British general why his army was constantly embroiled in wars. The general said, “We’re both old men now, I’m going to tell you the truth. If we don’t send our troops every generation, they’ll forget how to fight.”
After returning to Indianapolis from the war-torn Middle East where he saw starving people “dying in the street,” Rising-Moore decided to do something about poverty here. “I wasn’t the same person when I came back because I’d never seen that level of suffering before. I was going around to all of my rich friends — I was hanging around with the Northside crowd when I was in high school — and telling them the things I’d seen.” He hoped they’d help him start businesses for the poor based on Gandhi’s idea of cottage industries. “There was no interest in it whatsoever,” he said. “So I became suicidal. At that point, I didn’t think the world was worth it.”
Rising-Moore left Indianapolis to wander through Mexico. “I was broke down there and not worrying about being in situations that no person in their right mind would walk into,” he said. “I just didn’t care. That taught me some things, too. I figured out that I’m not afraid to die. And that’s probably a good thing.”
From this low point, Rising-Moore saw only up. “It finally came to me that I hadn’t really earned my death. I had been advantaged in terms of your average human being on this planet — driving around my Jaguar XKE and having a good time with all of the parties and everything. But I hadn’t done anything. I hadn’t paid anything back,” he said. “So, when I came to that understanding, that took care of my suicidal tendencies and I just went into it with a new vigor in terms of trying to make the world a better place.”
Greenpeace and GandhiStill, Rising-Moore remained angry at America and its materialistic culture. He moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, in western Canada. There, he joined an anti-nuclear group called the “Don’t Make a Wave Committee.” In 1971, the group became Greenpeace with Rising-Moore working as one of its first fund-raisers and expedition organizers. The group went after the Russian whalers and other environmental miscreants. This was right in the middle of the Cold War. And Rising-Moore began to suspect the United States government was working with Greenpeace to spy on the Soviet Union’s naval movements in the north Pacific. According to Rising-Moore, the CIA helped fund Greenpeace at that time and even donated a ship for use in an expedition. “It was just politics as usual during the Cold War,” he said.
Disillusioned again, Rising-Moore left Greenpeace. He stayed in Vancouver for 25 years, working as an environmentalist. At one meeting, Chief Victor Adolph of the Fountain Band of the Lillowet Nation stood up and said, “We have names for every one of these peaks around here, for every creek, for every river. We know more about this place than anybody. We’ve been around here forever. You’ll never know more than we do. So be humble and take your leadership from us.”
Rising-Moore thought that sounded good. “I started taking leadership from native people and offering them literature about Gandhi and [Dr. Martin Luther] King,” he said. Rising-Moore helped fight a plan to build nuclear power plants in British Columbia that would export energy to America. Meanwhile, Canadians would be stuck with the pollution. “I fought with such gusto that I became a prominent name in British Columbia,” he said. “I couldn’t pick up a phone without talking to the media and I burned myself out badly.”
The group was successful in keeping the power plants out. But, by the end, all was not well for Rising-Moore. “I learned another major lesson. It has to be a grass-roots mobilization,” he said. “I fell into the same trap of hierarchy I saw at Greenpeace. I knew better. At the end, there was mistrust with my friends in the movement I created.”
Coming back to the HeartlandSoon after returning to Indianapolis in 1996, Rising-Moore understood this was the place to make a difference. Still, it was a rough transition. “I knew, everywhere I traveled, that Indianapolis is so important to this potential change. I finally settled in here,” he said. “Being in Indianapolis, such a non-tolerant society, is not easy. When you live in Vancouver, which is tolerant of anything and anybody, then, all of a sudden, you have these narrow-minded people you have to associate with. Now I’m old enough to not have that hurt me or bring me down.”
Rising-Moore coped by finding connections with likeminded people. “I’ve found that as long as I hung out with Native people and African-Americans, I didn’t have any problems — because they understood exactly what I was saying,” he said. “We had a shared vision, we had a shared understanding of how we’ve come to be in the situation where we are.”
Rising-Moore considers Indianapolis the geopolitical center of America and thus the ideal spot to initiate change in the whole country. “I got my naturalized American citizenship five years ago or so,” Rising-Moore said. “At that point, I thought, if there’s going to be change in this world, we have to do that here in America. Then what better place to start than the home of the KKK?”
When the threat of war in Afghanistan and Iraq began to build, Rising-Moore became more politically active. But he stayed out of the spotlight until he was arrested for running after the presidential motorcade, peace flag in hand, in May. He would draw more attention to the incident by refusing to pay the $20,000 bail set by Judge Linda Brown and spending 17 days locked up. “I was amazed that I was arrested. At the same time, when I’m being hauled off in a paddy wagon, I knew that this would go against Bush. I realized that, OK, I’m not really worried about doing my little jail time,” he said.
“I could have been out in days. But I decided, ‘I’m just going to hang in there and put it back on the system.’” And the incident put Rising-Moore back into active duty as a political activist. “I stayed below the radar screen until Bush’s buddies nailed me out there at the fairgrounds,” Rising-Moore said. “Things have just kind of flowed from there. Now I have a story to get out.”
“An audacious protester”Rising-Moore knows he could land back in jail for helping Hughey desert to Canada. That’s part of the war he’s fighting with the Bush Administration. “When you’re a soldier, you’re always a soldier. You just find other ways of fighting,” he said. “I’m not afraid of getting arrested, no. It’s a very unpleasant experience. I’ve been in jail several dozen times through the years, since I first discovered non-violence as a way of changing things. But I understand that non-violence turns the bad laws onto themselves.”
Long a student of the teachings of Gandhi and King, Rising-Moore understands the importance of getting the truth out to as many people as possible. High-profile incidents, like the one with the president’s motorcade and now helping Hughey desert, are necessary for drawing attention to the cause.
“Let’s face it, I’m an audacious protester. And I am appalled at the fact that we live in a nation that’s not democratically elected while we’re running around imposing democracy on everybody else,” he said. “I kept my head down for 15 years. I couldn’t do it any more.”
On the road
Helping a deserter find refuge in CanadaBecky Oberg
3/2/2004; The Freedom UndergroundI’m waiting to meet a deserting soldier near a Safeway grocery store. He’ll be a passenger on the Freedom Underground, an underground network dedicated to sneaking deserters out of the country. According to Carl Rising-Moore, the conductor of this new underground railroad, he’s not the first. Nor will he be the last — Rising-Moore told me that several Muslim service members and others have considered deserting rather than fighting in Iraq. While he encourages people to use the legal channels to leave the military and others in the network encourage desertion only as a last resort, he counsels suicidal service members to leave immediately.
This passenger, Brandon David Hughey, is a private in the Army, stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. A main reason Rising-Moore is helping Hughey is because Hughey says he is suicidal. He found the NUVO article “A New Underground Railroad” on the anti-war site www.duckdaotsu.org, a Web site run by a Daoist hermit in the Rocky Mountains.
The headquarters of the U.S. Army Deserter Information Point (USADIP) is in Indianapolis. Hughey’s right under their noses, so close that he can’t afford any mistakes. He’s got to hide his vehicle and turn off his cell phone so he’s harder to track. He’s also got to get rid of his military ID and dogtags. I follow Rising-Moore and Hughey to a safe house in downtown Indianapolis. Hughey hides his dogtags and military ID in the trunk of his gray Mustang, which he and Rising-Moore then put in the garage of the safe house.
Hughey is wearing a New York Knicks baseball cap to hide his military-style haircut. He has only his driver’s license and high school diploma to identify himself — will that be enough to cross the border? Canada usually requires Americans to present a photo identification and proof of citizenship, such as a passport or a driver’s license and birth certificate.
He’s been in the Army since July, and known he could be deployed since December. Hughey received his deployment orders a few days ago — his unit is leaving as he arrives at the safe house. Hughey’s story is familiar. “Growing up, I always thought it was a good thing to do, go into the military,” he’ll say later. “After high school, I figured it’d be a good way to get money to go to college.” He’s since seen soldiers in his company suffer nervous breakdowns.
But Hughey’s survived this long — why is he running now?
He feels that suicide or desertion are his only options, especially with the time crunch. Some will consider him a hero — he’s risking jail time rather than supporting a war he believes is illegal. Some will consider him a coward and a traitor — he is deserting during a time of war. There is no easy choice for this desperate young man from San Angelo, Texas.
Hughey enlisted for four years when he was 17. His father had to sign a form giving Hughey permission to enlist as Hughey was not yet a legal adult. Rising-Moore shakes his head. “He’s not old enough to sign for himself, but he’s old enough to die?” Hughey did not tell anyone he was considering suicide. He’s seen how the military humiliates suicidal soldiers — a guard with the soldier 24/7, a sergeant or officer screaming insults about the soldier’s mental stability, confiscation of weapons and shoelaces.
3/3/2004; Heading northThis fog is straight out of a bad mystery novel. It forces Rising-Moore to slow down at times. Then it suddenly dissipates, and we continue down the interstate at an average of 65 mph. We’re somewhere in Ohio. The original plan was to enter Canada through the Detroit-Windsor border; that’s changed. Now the plan is to go to Buffalo and cross at Niagara Falls. I’ve got a video camera; I’m filming part of the journey for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
Hughey, a tank driver, doesn’t dare drive the borrowed, non-descript vehicle. If pulled over, he would have to show ID — the last thing he wants to do. He’s listening to music in the back seat. He seems calm, everything considered.
Hughey originally supported the war. Then he began watching the news, reading the newspaper. He read about international law and how it specifically forbids the invasion of a sovereign nation and preemptive war. When he learned there was no sign of the weapons of mass destruction — the pretext for the war — he decided the war itself was illegal under international law, his contract was null and void, and anything was better than supporting the war.
“My unit’s in Kuwait right now,” he says. He’s been gone for more than 24 hours, so he’s officially absent without leave. His unit’s been deployed, so he’s missed movement by design — another military offense. The maximum punishment for missing movement by design is a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for two years. Ten days after his disappearance, his family will receive a letter asking them to urge him to “return to military control.” In 30 days he’ll be dropped from his unit’s rolls and administratively classified as a deserter.
Desertion during a time of war is a capital offense — a fact we all know and don’t discuss. The last execution for desertion was during World War II, when Army Pvt. Eddie Slovik was shot by a firing squad. Army spokesman Joe Burlas told NUVO in a previous story that the penalty for desertion is “basically five years confinement if there’s an intent to avoid hazardous duty.”
According to Natalie Granger of the Army Public Affairs Office, 3,800 soldiers deserted in 2002. Three thousand two hundred fifty-five were returned to military control. In 2001, 5,065 deserted and 4,966 were returned. This is a recapture rate of about 85 percent in 2002 and 98 percent in 2001.
We stop at a gas station to refuel the car and ourselves. Inside, I see several kids’ bomber jackets for sale, complete with Army patches.
3/5/04; Crossing the borderHughey says the military has tried to keep returning personnel separate from deploying personnel. It’s easy to understand why when he talks about what he’s heard. “You have to worry more about the sand flies than the suicide bombers,” he says. He’s heard service members in Iraq are getting incurable skin diseases because of the sand flies. Both sides are suffering from the use of depleted uranium, the effects of which will last long after the war is over. There are rumors some soldiers have died from dehydration due to a tight water ration. Morale is abysmal and the suicide rate is higher than normal. Some of the Humvees aren’t properly armored — including the ones Hughey was supposed to drive. There is no exit strategy.
Most damning — no sign of the weapons of mass destruction. Now, some coalition sources are refusing to fight. Shortly after the recent terrorist bombing in Spain, voters ousted their pro-war leader. One American soldier and Afghanistan veteran, Jeremy Hinzman, has applied for political asylum in Canada. Others have contacted him for help; Rising-Moore considers that his job.
We’re close to the border now. Rising-Moore starts to prepare a contingency plan and advises Hughey on what to do if arrested. It all depends on what happens at the border, if his driver’s license is enough to get him into Canada. We’re in a small park in Niagara, N.Y., a quarter mile from the border. I pull out the camera and start it. American and Canadian flags flank a replica of the Statue of Liberty; Rising-Moore and Hughey admire it.
“What does liberty mean to you?” I ask. Hughey starts to answer. Freedom. Not having to fight in a war he doesn’t believe in. The freedom to say no.
We’re on the Rainbow Bridge. The CBC is waiting for us. We slowly creep toward the border. A guard is walking along the bridge, checking cars for anything suspicious. He’s approaching us. Suddenly, he turns around and goes back to talk to the CBC’s camera crew, which is filming our crossing. We pull up to the Canadian guard station and surrender our IDs.
How do we know each other? Where are we going in Canada? We’re going to watch the Knicks-Raptors game. How long will we be staying? Not long.
Rising-Moore does the talking. The guard examines our IDs, then hands them back and lets us through. We’re quiet until we get about 50 feet into Canada. Hughey sighs in relief. “Safe from Bush’s henchmen for the time being,” he says.
“For a long time to come,” Rising-Moore replies.
Hughey nods. “I feel safe now,” he says. “I’m glad to be in this country. … I feel like a free man.”
We meet up with the CBC and drive into St. Catherine’s, Ontario. A group of the Society of Friends — Quakers — is waiting for us. “Welcome to Canada,” says Don Alexander, smiling. He chuckles, and says, “Or should that be ‘Welcome to Canada, eh?’” They offer us food and invite us to spend the night. They praise Hughey for his courage, then turn to me to make sure I understand why they consider him a hero. They believe it takes great moral courage to refuse on conscience to fight a war. Many of them had helped deserters during the Vietnam War, and they believe history is repeating itself.
“He shouldn’t have to go die in some killing fields in Iraq — or anywhere else — in a preemptive war that’s totally contrary to international law,” Rising-Moore says. The Friends nod in agreement. “He’s a nice young man and he deserves a life.” The CBC asks one of the Friends, Rose Marie Cipryk, why they’re helping. “Why would we say no?” Cipryk replies. “How could we? How could we not help him?”
Return to AmericaWe spend the night with the Friends. They present Hughey with a postcard-sized painting entitled “The Angel of Grace.” He seems sad to see Rising-Moore and me leave, but Rising-Moore tries to encourage him. “You’re a different kind of soldier now,” Rising-Moore says, a soldier for peace. Rising-Moore helps Hughey contact Hinzman and a lawyer, Jeffery House, to help him gain legal status in Canada.
Hughey says leaving his family behind is the hardest part about deserting. I ask about his unit. “I hope they all make it back OK,” he says. “It’s just too bad they have to be over there in an illegal war.”
Any advice for service members in his situation? “If you’re at that point, you’re ready to take your own life, pack your bags and go.”
When Rising-Moore and I cross the border, we are greeted with a Marine recruiting billboard. “Look at that garbage,” he says, disgusted. “’The change is forever.’ Yeah, if you’re dead, that’s pretty much forever.”
Although he says he will not escort someone across the border again, Rising-Moore plans to continue to assist deserters. He is starting the Dove Legal Defense Fund to hire lawyers to help deserters legally immigrate to Canada.
Contributions may be sent to Jeffery House, 31 Prince Arthur Ave., Toronto, Ontario, M5R 1B2, Canada. “In trust for Brandon Hughey” should be written in the check’s memo section.
Becky Oberg was a private in the US Army. Last year she authored two cover stories for NUVO: "Full metal straightjacket" and "Homicide."