For 11 years, the radical, anti-government organization MOVE has been relatively quiet.
No profane messages broadcast over a loudspeaker.
No bunkers or stockades on their rooftop.
Instead MOVE has been crashing the system through lectures and rallies, calling for the release of its “political prisoners” – the MOVE 9 and MOVE supporter, convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.
But a recent custody battle has put MOVE on high alert.
A Philadelphia judge recently decided that John Gilbride, the father at the center of the custody battle with MOVE, should have unsupervised time with his son, who lives with his mother Alberta Africa, a MOVE member.
MOVE protested the judge’s ruling, saying that it is against their religious beliefs to separate mother from child.
They also accused Gilbride of being abusive and intent on kidnapping the 6-year-old boy.
So, MOVE went into battle mode.
In anticipation of trouble with police over the custody order, MOVE began boarding up the windows of their West Philadelphia house at 54th and Kingsessing Streets.
They asked people to hang banners and signs from their houses with slogans like: “Philly Police, Hands Off MOVE” and “We Don’t Want Another May 13th.”
But a confrontation was delayed. Hours before his first unsupervised visit with his son, Gilbride was shot to death, execution-style, in his car outside his Maple Shade, NJ apartment.
MOVE has denied any part in Gilbride’s murder, but say they know exactly who is responsible.
“MOVE knows that it’s the government that is behind John Gilbride’s actions in the custody case, and it’s the government that’s to blame for the death of John Gilbride,” reads one posting on the website.
Okay, maybe the government killed JFK, but John Gilbride?
MOVE also thinks that Gilbride was part of a government plot to take the organization down, and claims that Gilbride had “undergone mind-control.”
As paranoid as MOVE’s delusions sound, it is understandable why they feel the government is out to get them.
MOVE surfaced in Philadelphia in 1972, characterized by dreadlocks and the surname “Africa.”
Members practice the teachings of MOVE founder John Africa, whose philosophy espoused nature, equality with animals and the belief that the government is the root of all of our problems.
When the city demanded an inspection of MOVE’s Powelton Village home, after neighbors complained about garbage, human and animal waste and other health hazards to the community, the group built an eight-foot blockade and brandished weapons at police.
This lead to a gun battle on Aug. 8, 1978 between MOVE and police, which left one police officer dead and nine MOVE members in prison for his murder.
All nine were sentenced to 100 years in prison, with a 30-year minimum before parole eligibility.
Almost seven years later, on May 13, 1985, a bungled police effort to serve warrants on several MOVE members led to another confrontation.
When the group refused to surrender to police, gunfire broke out.
To end the standoff, the FBI and the City of Philadelphia dropped a C4 bomb on MOVE’s Osage Avenue home in West Philadelphia.
The explosives started a fire that destroyed 60 homes and left over 250 people homeless.
Eleven MOVE members died in the fire, including MOVE founder John Africa.
The only adult to escape the fire was Ramona Africa, who served seven years in prison for riot and conspiracy offenses.
Today MOVE’s de facto leader, Ramona Africa lectures around the world, telling people that the government is our enemy.
Many people nod in agreement when MOVE preaches that the government is the cause of our social problems, but MOVE’s message of unity and social change gets lost in its militant rhetoric.
The government didn’t kill Gilbride.
And it is doubtful that Gilbride was under mind-control when he filed for divorce from Alberta Africa and sought visitation rights for their son.
It is more likely that Gilbride grew tired of MOVE’s collective nose complicating his marriage and his relationship with his son.
For MOVE to believe that someone has to be an agent of the government to question their beliefs, divorce one of their members and seek unsupervised visitation with his child weakens any credibility, or effectiveness, MOVE hopes to have.
MOVE needs a reality check.
Both police and MOVE have exercised poor judgment that resulted in grave consequences that haunt us today.
Both groups have shed each other’s blood, making their contempt more personal than moral, and making another confrontation likely as police investigate Gilbride’s murder.
And while MOVE prepares for another battle with police, the unity and social change it says it stands for remains unseen, because MOVE fails to realize that these things come about through democracy, not anarchy.
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