It’s hard to admit that Dave Strano broke me, but he did, and it’s taken years of healing to move past that fact and be able to be close to people again. I was a teenager when he texted me off an internet precursor to tinder. And I was 19 when we finally met and I moved half way across the country to live with him in a small town where I knew no one else. Most of my words following were written in 2011 when I first started thinking about calling Dave out publicly…
Dave Strano is a perfect example of the “Anarchist Man”. He is smart, charismatic and incredibly manipulative; I should know, since I was his partner for over three years. We became romantically involved when I was nineteen and he was twenty-three. I moved across the country to live with him and work on projects in Lawrence, Kansas. We split in July 2008 after a very long and difficult relationship. I know it’s been awhile since then, and some may wonder–why am I coming out with all of these things now? All I can say in response is that the hurt I experienced from his behavior in our relationship isn’t much less, all these years later.
Our relationship was hard for a lot of reasons. I’m not trying to paint the picture of a brutal thug luring a naïve little girl out to the cornfields of Kansas. I was then, as I am now, a particularly strong and independent person capable of making a lot of my own choices–which is why I am still awestruck at how I could be stuck in that situation for so long, how I let myself be abused for so many years. I’m able to make my own mistakes as well, to act inappropriately–to use jealousy or distrust as a weapon against a partner. I will refer to details mostly to show why I find Dave untrustworthy, and his behavior dangerous; I want this to be less of a list of his wrongdoings and more of a look into his general character.
His use of “accountability processes” to gain power
Dave is (was?) a self-proclaimed rapist. He raped a friend of his when he was in high school. It was not until years later, in conversation with anarchist women, that he began thinking of this specific sexual encounter as rape. When he concluded this, he created an accountability process for himself. He was not then in contact with the woman he assaulted. I don’t know the exact details of this process; he explained them to me in different ways at different times. What I do know is that he used the fact that he was “in an accountability process” to bolster his status within the community in Lawrence, KS. He used it as a tool to have more room than others, especially other men. I can’t know his motives for sure, but Dave was completely in control of his “accountability”, and it seemed to go as far as he needed it to in order to gain more status and recognition. He learned the lingo and used it to feign care when it suited him best. This trend seemed to continue into his work in Denver when speaking to a “process” and “accountability” around his and I’s relationship that I was never aware or a part of.
His threats to harm himself when others counter him
Dave threatened to kill himself on more than one occasion. Dave did and does have serious mental health issues, and of course he may have legitimately felt suicidal at times. Despite that, these threats of suicide came at times that were incredibly convenient for him–when he thought his power was being challenged, or when he simply didn’t get his way. When another anarchist in the region voiced concern over his behavior, and pointed out how many people had the same concern, Dave locked himself in our then shared room and threatened to kill himself. (this happened in 2005) With a little retrospection, this seems like a startlingly obvious ploy to shift attention away from his problematic behavior by causing his friends to worry and care about him. Dave would use this and similar manipulation tactics against me when I didn’t do what he told me to do. (examples include threats of self harm when i didn’t come home “on time”) While routinely ignoring others whose mental states required caring and compassionate friendship, he instead created hostile atmospheres towards people who “didn’t pull their weight”.
His threats to pull solidarity from those who disagree with him
During a major demonstration in the mid 2000‘s, Dave threatened to abandon me in jail. He and I got into an argument because he thought my place was doing “jail solidarity”, while I wanted to participate in a different part of that week’s festivities. While my eyes and mouth still burned from tear gas, Dave yelled at me that I “wasn’t his comrade”, and said that if I went to jail he wouldn’t get me out. A few minutes after this conversation, however, Dave was alone and detained by the police. When I answered his phone call afterwards, he screamed at me for not picking up my phone fast enough and for not being there for him while dealing with the cops.
While this was one small but jarring incident, this is a common tactic of his. He will supply you with resources as long as you do what he says. The second you don’t, you’re cut off and left alone. He has built entire power structures around this concept.
His continual abuse of partners
I am not the first person to come out of a long friendship or relationship with Dave scarred. Partners before and after me have echoed my feelings of abuse. Dave has admitted to being abusive time and time again.
Inside of our relationship, Dave had the tendency to swing between being a loving, caring partner whom I would never want to be without to being an awful violent man who scared the shit out of me. This violence encompassed name calling and tearing me down by habitually calling me stupid, and other types of derogatory names and telling me that I was “too crazy” to have anyone love me; the time he got physically abusive (which he has admitted at times and denied at others), how he decided who my friends were and where and how I spent my money, his control of my political engagement and development, and how he made it clear I could not continue past friendships without his approval. He was in control of my substance use and my past addictions were used as leverage against his saintly sxe lifestyle. I became afraid of him, and my fear of him became just like the fear I felt as a child when I thought I was about to be physically punished. I was trapped in a town I didn’t have support in and in a ever deepening cycle of “if I leave I prove that I’m not worth of care because that’s what he keeps telling me”
There were elements of sexual abuse all throughout our relationship. I was young when Dave and I got together and learned much of what it was to have a partner through him. He often degraded me and turned the situations around on me if I was overwhelmed or uncomfortable during or after sex, this coupled with a verbally violent tendencies meant that I was pushed into having a lot of sex that I didn’t want to have for nearly 3.5 years.
His abuse and control are habitual, fully part of him, how he interacts with the world. And the tactics range from partners, to comrades, fellow employees and friends.
When Dave left Lawrence I asked him to be straightforward with people there about his abusive tendencies and use of manipulation in collective situations. He assured me he was. Lo and behold, I found out from several people in Denver who knew us both, but separately, that this was not the case. When he gets to write the history it looks pretty fucking good for him. This is congruent with him creating his own accountability process in Lawrence and ability to alter history inside of organizing that I will touch on later.
His use of the collective structure for personal gain
Dave is a master of organizations and structure. He loves them because it is easy to get and hold power when you can’t clearly see its lines. He has cemented himself as the leader time and time again inside supposedly anarchist organizations. He’s good at organizing; he’s not a stupid man, and a lot of his comments on strategy are good. The amount of projects that he sabotaged when they no longer suited him and the number of people he abandoned in Lawrence when he left for Denver was incredible. Dave spent years as one of the main organizers in Lawrence; he was on nearly all the bank accounts, had ten times the contacts as those who hadn’t been around as long, was on the leases, the utilities. He moved to Denver with almost no warning, leaving behind a community in debt and without the resources necessary to sustain itself. Projects ended and debts were not paid off.
Perhaps most disappointingly, Dave completely abandoned a huge network of prisoners he had helped create and worked to maintain over the years. I was involved with the network starting from the first newsletter, but not for its formation. After Dave and I split up and it became too difficult for us to work on the project together, he dumped it. Nearly 2,000 people were on our mailing list. This was not some small collective that could form and disband at will with little to no effect, it was a network of people–people with little to no resources locked in prisons across the country. He left it without a word, leaving only a few less experienced people in Lawrence to sift through hundreds of letters and requests. We, and I tried, after he left to continue, but it eventually failed.
To me, this all presents a dangerous question about his dedication and character. From telling me he’d let me rot in jail for not doing what he said, to dumping entire communities and the projects he initiated, to abandoning people who are already in a dire situation—all these things point to the fact that Dave is willing to betray his principles for the sake of his self-interest.
In 2010 I found myself in the middle of a widely publicized bout of state repression. Two collectives Dave was a part of helped us out tremendously; both DABC and P&L Printing were very supportive. Inevitably, Dave tried to use that support for his personal advantage. A few years before that, Dave and I took a loan from my family for a collective project—a personal loan, not a loan to the collective. Dave still owed my family his portion of the money, although I had been asking him to repay it for years. In my last attempt to get him to repay the debt, he cited all the support “he” had given my arrest group, such as P&L offering us free printing, as a move towards settling the debt. Eventually after a firm stance that other people’s labor cannot be his to use and many tries, he paid me back. I take his attempt to use the support given collectively by P&L Press and Denver ABC to try and settle a personal debt as evidence that Dave has continued to see himself in a position higher than those he works collectively with. He really thinks he is in charge.
In late 2016, I removed Dave from an event on the west coast that we both happened to be at, we had not seen each other since he left for Denver in the middle of the night and I gave him a chance to leave of his own accord. As I walked him out of the book fair he kept saying “I bailed you out of jail, I thought we were good”…which relays to me that the problem continues. First, he has never bailed me out of jail, I don’t know what he is talking about and secondly, we are anarchists, that is what you do-get each other out of jail. Doing so, does not mean you are absolved of your abusive sins or do not need to be accountable for your actions.
The most recent rise of Redneck Revolt, with which Dave is the unabashed originator of, has left me wondering if people understand his history. With the stories of misogyny and brutally heavy handed collective structure coming to the surface I see this new political formation as the same trend from his past. I was a part of a group that came together to do much of the same work that RR does currently, and I was there when the name “John Brown Gun Club” was coined. Since the beginning, there has been deep unease from participants in these groups about Dave and his use of militancy. He created himself above reproach by slandering and attacking those who would question his use of firearms politically or in the day-to-day. This isn’t to say that I or others didn’t participate-but it was not a collective structure, not when it was impossible to raise critique or concern.
I came across an interview Dave did with a paper from Philly back in 2011. I don’t know if he assumed no one would challenge him, or that no one from KS would see it, but the exaggerations as to the origins of RR are astounding. Here are a few quotes and examples…
“We managed to table at over 30 different gun shows in a three year period, and distribute hundreds of copies of anti-racist and anti-Minutemen literature during that time period.”
This is a great exaggeration at best, I think the possibly highest number of shows that the JBGC tabled at was 10. Also, the name itself was a joke the first time we tabled at a show. We needed a group name and Dave came up with on the spot, and then without really checking in with anyone it became a “thing”. John Brown is his weird crazy idol and I can see why in a lot of ways. Zealotry, martyr complex, pseudo racist ‘guised as revolutionary anti-racist. These shows were incredibly unsuccessful. We gave away very little literature. We did meet some interesting people and build some relationships, but the idea that we “distributed hundreds” of pieces of literature is a good sound bite at best. The shows themselves were sketchy and we got into a number of confrontations with open white supremacists and members of the far-right.
“Kansas Mutual Aid was mostly comprised of working class anarchists, few of who seem to meet the normal demographic of ex-punk and ex-middle class backgrounds. The majority of the folks that made up the John Brown Gun Club working group even went as far as to openly identify as rednecks. Our shared experiences of growing up in poor or working class white communities, in trailer parks and run down apartment buildings, surrounded by redneck culture, made it easy to find commonality.”
KMA was for sure a good portion of some poor folks. But “redneck” was never a term thrown around really by many besides Dave. It totally ignores that the collective changed membership…a lot. A huge cause of that was Dave (and myself at times) being heavy handed in our roles in that collective. But it was certainly a mixed bag. There were people from the middle of nowhere KS and people from one of the richest counties in the country (Johnson County), I don’t think the non-white people or the trans folks really threw around the term “redneck” and I don’t remember it being a central tenant of a collective primarily of punks in the most liberal town and county in KS.
It was, and obviously still continues to be a term that is important to Dave himself. But I began to question his redneck identity when I spent the holidays at the giant homes of both his parents in their gated communities, and learning that his father’s military background, while forcing him to move a few times as a child was not of some grunt but of a doctor, and a good/well paid one at that.
“The efforts of the John Brown Gun Club were definitely more successful than the efforts in Colorado in this area of struggle. In Kansas and Missouri, we were on a first name basis with gun show organizers.”
I have literally no idea what Dave is referencing here. I remember antagonisms and a vendor/promoter relationship. Dave has at times spoken about a relationship with a dealer at the shows, again this is an exaggeration. There was one dealer we legally purchased firearms from who we saw a few times at different shows, and had a friendly relationship with but nothing beyond “they sell guns, we buy guns”. He was nice to me and didn’t talk down to me when I brought a rifle back because the spring was too long and jamming. That’s all I remember in terms of working relationships with gun dealers.
My interest in going through this one article was to highlight the way that “history is written by the victors” in a sense and Dave has a really good media strategy. He is prone, as maybe we all are, to over statement and exaggeration when it suits him. And to omitting details that don’t fit his narrative, to a point where the low level gas-lighting of other people he was working with and I assume is working with makes “truth” muddled. Please keep in mind that all this was a decade ago, and I am working off memory, I am not expressing hard facts but situations as I remember them.
For those reading this currently a part of the RR/JBGC community, I advise you to take the aspects of the work you feel good about that you are doing and leave any associations with Dave behind. He has positioned himself time and time again in the eyes of the FBI/ATF/JTTF as a person of interest and his non-disclosure about the JBGC and it’s history of being investigated alongside Dave means you all entered into a false agreement. Dave, in my opinion, has a deep martyr complex and does not care about the safety of those around him before the possibility of gaining that status.
In total. I think Dave needs to walk away from anarchist/radical/left organizing. His time is done, and he’s hurt a lot of people along the way. I know for a fact that he will be ejected from any and all events that I choose to attend, and after the book fair in LA last year he should know I’m not fucking around. This is almost 15 years of the possibility of accountability and creating healthy relationships and he’s squandered all of it, and I’m done, and I think everyone out there should be too.