Gaetano gradually becomes a monster, the loneliness eats him up, he is the architect of a conspiracy built by himself. His routine cloud is suffocating. It’s tobacco and alcohol, the windows closed all the time, his dark teeth, the stage behind the screen through which he watches the world. I hear him speak, sometimes I respond by saying what he wants to hear, and then I go back to the mirror and I blow all his words away from me.
Once, a long time ago, he wrote a manifesto that divorced him from the American newspaper industry. Or he liked to say so. Then he arrived in Mexico, scpaing from the context in which he had managed to affirm himself as a dissident. Ready to conquer, like a good son of a deeply imperialist culture, the Mexican ground that he was gradually acquainted with, but always walking on the surface.
He has been reporting American, Oriental and Latin American social struggles for thirty years. Or he likes to say so. He says he knows exactly what is the order of the important actions, what the scenario is, what acts should or should not be interpreted and in what way it should be done in a determined social panorama in order for a fight to be successful or not. The revolution has gestures that must be known when the language of war is spoken.
When he talks and writes about the revolution he seems like a unique player in front of a magnificent board. He smiles like a child who has fun changing the pieces of place inside a small city that seeks, within its incessant rhythm of tiny destinations, only to fulfill his duty of a day. Every day within the fictitious board, thousands of invisible events happen, some walk in the dance of the game of the pieces that already exist, the real streets, the beings of history and bone meat. Others never happen in concrete, however, in the board city, where Gaetano plays, there are coup d’etat in the kitchens, mansards that revolt from their windows, lovers who hide from fate in boxes full of old correspondences. Assassins of movement leaders with unusual forms. Explosions in front of congresses and municipal palaces, boycotts that conspire within Sunday Masses, producing believers who annihilate their chains when they want their nieces madly, -those days the tithing basket weighs less.
This is how even when he has the best international secret sources at his fingertips, the best devices to silence the radio waves of telephones, and the best trained spies in the country, he innocently ignores, within his monstrosity, most of the tiny events that surround him. Although it has a button in his study from which he could detonate the bloodiest revolution that can liberate the man of man himself, his cloud of smoke imprisons him, and imprisons me, because we know precisely which piece fits on the board of the world, and we know what factor produces and reproduces things as we perceive them; as deep the things are, we do not know how to take off the smoke from the eyes, or how to open the window to breathe, and although we have books that predict and explain the human condition with art and scalpel, we’ve forgotten how to look at the invisible notes, which we no longer report.
I wrote this text in 2013, as part of the catharsis after having worked eight months in the offie of Narco News, directed by Al Giordano, also director of the School of Authentic Journalism, SAJ “School of Authentic Journalism”. Why I had to create fictions and allegories to deal with those eight months, I hope to make it clear in these texts.
The story of how I got there and the things that happened next is long and complicated. It started in March 2012, when I was accepted to that year’s edition of the SAJ. I was 27 years old and was working at that time on a project called Cooperativa Tzikbal. Moved by the shock of facing the reality of the poverty of rural communities in the north of the country, full of questions and a naive will to change the world, I applied for the call to the SAJ that a former dance partner had been promoting through Facebook.
I was “accepted”.
In January-February 2012 they notticed me so, and sent me an email to confirm the appointment of the previous interview. I was very excited. I had known little about the school until then, I vagely knew the news site of Narco News, I had never considered journalism, but I did write. I just wanted to be a writer. So I arrived punctually to the appointment to which Al Giordano and a woman colleage of his came. Everything around this call, the way in which it was necessary to postulate, the process of previous emails, the language that it was used, the precision of the details and the meticulous organization of each event was impressive. It was like entering through a long tunnel where it seemed that the difficulty of entry was a condition inherent of something big, exclusive, important.
Or so they made us look like. Later, I understood better the reason of this process.
In the interview they asked me why I wanted to attend SAJ. I said first that I hated schools, and Al laughed and said he agreed. The rest of the conversation I forgot. I remember that he did not stop smoking and drinking coffee and the other woman was very pretty, she spoke with great confidence, and had a lot of personality. After that interview I think they told me I was inside, and they invited me to a pre-SAJ meeting at Al’s house.
I arrived a little surprised at how everything was. As a regular mexican woman, I was asking myself is I would not be exposing myself to being kidnapped and used in a trafficking network in that appartment of Napoles. Just paranoias of mine. -I thought.
A few days later it would be the school. The goal of the pre SAJ meeting was for the Mexican assistants to meet and to know we were some kind of hosts for the rest of the attendees. Young people, men and women from all over the world who came as well as many community organizers, journalists, and activists to the 10 days that the school took place, had to be welcomed by us, we were given several instructions on what would happen at every moment and how we should help.
The headquarters for the school were like a joke. It was a hotel-villa in Tepoztlan whose rooms must have cost about 2 thousand pesos a night. (We were 40 people or more) it had pools, buffet, “palapa” for plenary and it was quite luxurious. Several of us had done a personal investigation on the SAJ by that moment. We found other stories of other former assistants, and there were strange comments that made noise inside my head when I arrived at the hotel. In my proletarian mind, I kept wondering how something so luxurious had been financed for so many people while promoting such a miscredit for formal education. Poor hippie outsider I was. In the information I had found on the internet, there were testimonies from former school assistants who told the story of one of the first of its editions. Some kind of fight between scholars, some kind of disagreement on how to proceed with them, and a division between the asistants in two groups. There were also articles alleging a relationship between the CIA and Narco News. Not all the comments about the school were positive, many belonged to people who had been somehow banished from it. It sounded like something very exaggerated, “being banished from an event that happens ten days a year”, too much of drama for what it was. When I got to my room I discussed it with my roommate, and then with two other assistants from the next room, and we all speculated about the real school’s background. The rest of the experience was imbued all this time within this mystery. We had the feeling of being in something whose ultimate ends were unknown.
I do not remember much the sessions, but there was one activity after another all day. We had to get up at 8:00 am, have breakfast at the buffet, attend several plenary sessions and then go back to the buffet. Then we went to special groups where we worked using different journalistic methods. Research, video, I do not remember which one else. And then again to the buffet, before the daily party night. Every night there was one with lots of free alcohol, music, and dancing. The parties always ended very late, and I remember when Al interviewed me he asked me if I regularly drank alcohol. I had always been a sort of a nerd, I did not smoke, I did not drink, I did not do drugs. I told him so, and he told me that the condition for inviting me was that I had to be at parties and have fun. At that moment I thought that maybe Al worried about my personal integrity, how important it is to know people, and be happy. (Irrepressible laughs) I had placed myself as a roommate of another girl who also did not drink and we always went to sleep early. We spent many of those nights analyzing everything that happened and the things we learned. It was an avalanche of intellectual, emotional and sensory stimuli. There were people from all corners of the earth, with careers as activists, artists, and very striking journalists. Talent, art, music, and a lot of motivation coming from many places directed to build a culture of “training” in nonviolent civil resistance.
Most of the talks and interventions of professors consisted of stories of people who had participated in some social struggle and they focused a lot on talking about successful cases. It was necessary to report the effective peaceful actions that nonviolent tactics used. The school of 2012 was funded by the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, which brought to the sessions speakers, teaching materials and various publications. Being there, 18 hours a day, attending at talks, meeting incredible people, the brain became an inspiration pump. It was too much to be assimilated every day. So the submersion strategy had its effect. I left totally convinced that all the fights had to be peaceful, they had to have strategy behind, planning, rehearsal, and aim to win.
I remember how important concepts like victory, discipline, and strategy were. Those were words repeated at all times and with which obedience was implicit because in the end the doctrine was perfectly constructed. It did not have methodological gaps, it made sense. Each of Gene Sharp’s recommendations made sense. But at that time I had no idea how many levels that would manifest as doctrine later on.
To train. Training workshops on nonviolent civil resistance. Nonviolence sessions. Dsicipline, planifying. We were constantly told this during school. I felt that they were great tools and I could not believe why the subject was not better known or spread among the left that I had known in Mexico City. It seemed the solution to all the organizational problems.
Pause. This is called the School of Authentic Journalism, but a large part of it developed the theme of community organizing. Al said that journalism and community organization were parts of the same thing. The movements need to communicate their goals, their achievements, their tactics and although I was not clear how a journalist could also be a community organizer, it made sense to me.
The school lasted ten days. Ten days of strangeness for it’s funding, for all the values that were “inculcated” with each activity, and that air of mystery around the organizers. I remember that my perception was that they were not so well known or recognized by the Mexican journalistic media, but they seemed to assume a personality full of paraphernalia and protective gestures of something very important that they were carrying out. During the school I was surprised to learn that Al was the ex-partner of one of the teachers, a lot much younger than him, gorgeous, intelligent. (Strangely, all the women who attended the SAJ were very beautiful) I was surprised because maybe I am full of prejudices around relationships with so much age difference and they have have always seemed dangerous to me because of the inequality that inhabits them. I was also a little disappointed to learn that Al mixed his personal life with his work. Much time later, everything made sense in this respect, too.
When the SAJ was over I was strangely animated and exhausted. I had the feeling that they had put me in a cocktail with amazing people and they had shaken us for a long time. Dissiness,happiness, disorientation. The combination worked: intellectual, gastronomic, landscape, personal, emotional stimuli, compulsory parties (deprived us of sleep), intensive work. Al had anticipated that at the end of each SAJ there was a withdrawal syndrome, after all the adrenaline in SAJ, when leaving it, the world seemed less bright. This he had said in one of the first meetings when he welcomed each of us and made us introduce ourselves to the group. I remember that at that moment I was very nervous when it was my turn. But in a certain way he designed the emotions that were being handled in each stage, and conforted me, and the others, and I understood later, first with admiration, then with fear.
All the characteristics that made the SAJ something so effective corresponded by chance to those of a sect.
The application to enter the SAJ is very long. Many questions, a long essay. After an interview, then confirmation emails. It gives the impression from the outside, that behind the SAJ there is a great team that works professionally, that organizes plans and executes. It gives the impression that there is administration, direction, editing. It seems that Al Giordano is really a hero journalist retired community organizer. A misunderstood genius, a rebel, oustider exiled from the terrible gringo world of the media he had defeated and now honorably and generously passed on his cultural heritage and experience to the new generations, for the good of society.
Pause. I have to pause continuously because the second part of this story will close some loose ends that were not resolved until six years later. And to realize things as I write produces an emptiness in my stomach that forces me to stop.
The character of Al Giordano was perfectly created. And I say created because as a writer he knows the importance of telling his own story. From the organizer of an anti-nuclear movement in the US to a renegade journalist in Mexico. During school, some American colleagues corroborated that Al was a legend and that Narco News was a benchmark for journalism in the war on drugs on the border. At that time my life consisted in doing yoga and dance, and dreaming of a cooperative world. I don’t think now, that I had enough criteria to appreciate these references and put them into questioning. In addition, Al’s discourses on desecolarized education, on discipline, and the willingness to change reality had also already had their effect on me.
I remember that although it caused me stinging and chills, what Al said in a welcome ceremony resonated a lot with me. “I believe in you, not one believed in me when I was younger, except someone, and this person changed my life”. “Now it’s your turn to change the world” and things like that.
We were all people who wanted to change the world, from the left, rebels in a certain way, and that speech was perfect because rebellion and dissidence have as a constituent context the distance with the rest of the world, in many cases at least. To disagree with something is to feel sometimes also misunderstood. And entering a place full of apparent equals is not an everyday thing, that’s why the SAJ seems so many times a paradise, a promised land. The dissident’s melancholy finds a catharsis there in five minutes. At least the young ones.
When I returned home after the SAJ, after taking a walk with the new friends from the US, and South Africa, I remember being in my room and feeling that I wanted to change reality in that same moment Build a team, put hands to work. Some SAJ colleagues and I had a project that did not succeed, I’ll say why later. And I felt anxious and nothing of the outside world seemed interesting to me anymore. I hoped to collaborate with Al, in any way, as a volunteer, editor, cmmunity manager or whatever. That’s why on the last day of the SAJ I told him with eyes full of admiration that I wanted to collaborate with NN and that I was super happy and that he could count on me. He said let’s talk about it later. And now I think twice before saying this kind of things.
This is what happened in the real world. But there are other things that meanwhile, happened in the virtual world.
Al and Greg Berger, a kind of deputy director or partner of NN and the SAJ, opened a facebook group of our generation where they published indications, messages, information about the activities, the daily photographs (which were thousands) and messages from the assistants, both tutors and students. Near the end of school, before returning to Mexico City, I remember that there was a problem with some scholars. I do not remember exactly what happened, but some were thrown out of the FB group. And little by little, between chats and meetings after the SAJ, it became clear that these people had to be totally exiled from the project because they were considered harmful. I believed this, and I accept having supported it, even though it seemed obvious to me that inviting investigative journalists to a project whose financing or methods were not very clear would raise suspicions, speculations, or the simple questions that the exiled group (among whom was Al’s ex girlfriend) had done.
The first day of SAJ, on March 20, 2012, there was an earthquake in Mexico City of 7.2 degrees or something like that. In my head, the message was that something was moving. The SAJ had been present somehow (making videos or strange visits) in Egypt and Madrid. It was the post 15M era, post Arab Spring. There were many ideas in the air about the effect that new networks and the Internet had on the revolutions that were emerging and being seen as possible. And 2012 was an election year in Mexico. The environment was totally conducive to putting into practice all the things I had seen in school, to create content against Peña Nieto, to write about it. To get involved in anything that happened and that we could make a difference to avoid what later became the telebancada. What was the arrival of the PRI to the presidency of Mexico, the right, the opressors, the dictatorship back. After the SAJ, I was sure that this dynamic community of people was going to make a difference, whether we were here or in another part of the world. Especially because during those ten days I had the feeling that there was some kind of unity and solidarity among us.
With that feeling, with the will to put my energy to learn at the service of the common good, I got to collaborate in the Narco News office.
After having spoken with Al in person, we agreed that I could collaborate with the project on a regular basis. We went to a cafe on Insurgentes and spoke not for very long. I do not remember what we said either, but later I think I accompanied him to go home. We went through a park and he asked me to sit down. I had maintained until then my admiration and respect, and I would never have considered anything romantic happening between us. This idea never crossed my mind, and even though I agreed with many of their ideas, it never had the feeling of confidence, lnot a piece of attraction. When we said goodbye he told me that he would think about a fair payment-retribution fee and that I could surely help him to administer Narco News. I was afraid of not being able to do it because I imagined Narco News as a plural news room. With plural saying, I want to make clear that I thought at least it would exist beyond Al. But when I got to the office I had already received two surprises to which I had to adapt.
I will not say I was not happy. I was. But my welcome to that world left me with a lesson, which did not reach me to prevent everything that happened later, this is what I say in the second part of the story, where I hope to make clear several things, including my position regarding the out in the light of so many stories about Al Giordano and his projects to change the world.
Al, if you are reading this do not be afraid of things that are not true. The truth not only costs to the implicated, but to who was silent for so long, in this case, me. You more than anyone told us many times that there are no absolute truths, that “no one is right”, and that putting together many truths can only create a greater one.
I write this to explain events related to the recent public statements of several former women collaborators of the School of Authentic Journalism. First of all, I want to express my full solidarity and support to each of those who have had the courage to tell their experiences as victims of labor abuse, workplace harassment, sexual harassment and emotional manipulation. I consider myself personally subject to this. I categorically reject the systematic aggressions that the director of the School of Authentic Journalism has perpetrated against students and collaborators. I do not justify any of them at all, and I want to make it clear that I do not blame (although I do question) or criticize the position of those women who still profess support by Al Giordano, since I consider them victims like me and dozens of women nearby the SAJ.
Monday, February 19, while I review without much attention the facebook on my mobile phone I find a phrase that catches my attention: “I stand behind all the women (and there are many) who continue to create important work after being expelled from this group … “Which frames a publication that says” The School of Authentic Journalism (part of Narco News) just began its fundraising drive for this year. I attended the School in 2014. I would not have anything against the School if I stopped hearing stories about Al and Greg mistreating women. But unfortunately there is a deep, deep well of those stories. ”
When I read this, an experience that I had tried to forget for many years came to my mind and to my body. When one night in February I left the Narco News office, also Al’s house, escaping with the fear of someone who had done something wrong. With horror of being seen and receiving complaints, feeling that I was betraying something sacred and that my decision to leave would lead me to be criticized, exiled, slandered, and above all silenced.
My hands were shaking when this Monday of 2018, in a morning at home and in a life totally different from my life five years ago, I wrote a small message in the complaint publication. I wanted to back up what they were saying. Give a testimony that I thought I would never be able to give, and above all, I wanted to make these women, who were beginning to be many as the morning wore on, not feel the loneliness and discredit that I felt when I stopped being the assistant of Al Giordano.
In the previous story I tell how I got to the Narco News office, full of illusions.
Agitated by the recent experience of the School of Journalism. Curious about the personality of the director.
I was too naive. The night before I started working at NN Al Giordano told me by Facebook message that he was in love with me. It surprised me, because the only link we had was having spoken a couple of times during and after school. I never thought that I would have given any sign of being interpreted as an opening to a romantic movement by Al. He looked like my father, in terms of age, and during the SAJ I attended I had a fleeting encounter with a partner, which it was something obvious and open, with no mysteries or secrets involved, and I thought it would be enough evidence that nor during or after the SAJ there was any interest in Al from my part.
While Al sent me messages saying that he had fallen in love with my character and my way of looking at an insect, I sent these messages to a friend in NY, (another SAJ scholar) to whom Al was saying exactly the same things at the same time. First we both laughed, we said how embarrassing the situation was, but we ended both feeling deeply disappointed. Was he taking advantage of his position and the admiration we had for him to seduce us? It seemed disgusting. My friend and I talked a lot about it, and I decided not to participate in NN after those messages.
The next morning Al told me he was recanting what was said. That he was very drunk and that he was very lonely the last night. That I should not take seriously anything he said to me after 6 o’clock in the afternoon. And after considering it, today I know that foolishly, I decided to ignore the seduction attempt and work for Al as his assistant.
The agreement was that I would begin to compile letters of recommendation and review of the SAJ 2012. My experience until then was to write and manage. For this, Al told me that I should go to his house from 10 in the morning to 6 in the afternoon. He had given me keys to his apartment because part of the “job” was making sure I woke him up at 10:00 am. He was not a “morning person”, he repeated constantly. And he gave himself the license to be a monster “before coffee”.
So I had to make coffee.
Many of the things I did in the first month were just sending emails, writing letters and uploading posts to the NarcoNews site. I felt that these were things I could do completely from home, and I proposed to do so to Al. But for him, the discipline of going to the office every day was important, so he insisted that I had to continue to going with him everyday. An all I did was tiring, things like listen to him talk, see how he got angry with his ex, with whom despite having broken contact he continued to build hatred and a wall made of obstacles. He asked his friends not to publish the work of this ex girlfriend. He sent angry messages to the group recently expelled from the school, constantly reviewed the social networks of alumni, talked about what had happened in the SAJ, and basically relieved himself from the anger of being alone.
When I entered in April 2012, Al said my job would start with basic tasks but that the responsibility and complexity would increase with time. After the SAJ, we were a community of almost 30 people, with a lot of talent and possibilities, and Al constantly received materials from the alumni to be published on the portal. I thought that this was the most appropriate, and propitious. I did not know the regularity of the site’s publications, and in fact I was surprised to see that most of the publications were stories only of Bill Conroy and Al Giordano, plus the letters that asked for money from the young journalists of SAJ alumni.
But the pieces of journalism that the ex SAJers sent were not being published. It was as if Al didn’t wanted anyone to have a place or a voice inside Narco News, besides him, Bill, or Greg Berger. Or whoever had his sympathy in turn. He cnstantly discouraged attempts to write together (among former students of saj) saw badly the groups of friends that appeared after the SAJ but did not include him, spoke badly among the students of many of them to prevent “cells” as he called them, to be made. “Grupúsculos” of enemies, infiltrators, saboteurs.
And all that sounded very strange to me, and when I told him, or asked him to put aside hatred, and include other to enrich the portal he told me that the SAJ was his project, that it was not a democracy, and that whoever did not like it or was willing to harm it could be just expelled. He also used to say that the SAJ was the only thing he had and that whoever wanted to, could do his own project with complete freedom. That calmed my comments about it then.
In addition to this, I had seen what was happening with the disobedients. Those who questioned, (it occurred at the end of the school), were designated as toxic traitors. That was an implicit lesson that was recorded for many of us, and although we continued discussing the strange background of SAJ, we did not mention it openly ever again.
In that initial period everything went smoothly, it was an election year, there were many open signs about the role of the media in the construction of the family image of Peña Nieto, and the management of the image of the PRI. It was happening exactly what the SAJ said about the sold media, the complicity with power, and my reading then was that we were in the perfect moment to act in some way, to write more and to involve and collaborate with more people.
But Al was extremely jealous of the project. With much disappointment I realized that NN almost did not report. Its rate of publications was extremely low, according to its director: it was worth writing only the most important and impressive stories. But even in the midst of the whirlwind of information that was the electoral context, nothing was worth to be reported. NN also did not work as a conventional medium. While I proposed ideas to Al to extend the school in more workshops, to seek funding through crowfunding campaigns (to not depend on the editorial line of the ICNC or entities with questionable political interest), to publish valuable materials from the community of the school, he refused outright.
In this time Al started telling me that I was his successor, (which sounded to me like a cliche and a quite kitsch idealization) and in front of others he liked to say that I was an administrator of NarcoNews, and that I was a whip and a tirana that made things work. Somehow, on a very small scale I had – or have, some leadership skills, because I organize things, I have ideas, I launch myself to risky companies and without a professional career that supports me, I play everything I am every time I start something. And Al liked to feed my insecurity of being self-taught, of being out-of, the school, a system, a group of friends.
He used to say things, especially in the afternoons-when he should not be taken into account-because he drank too much after 6:00 p.m., like I was going to change the world. That I had something special and gave order to his life. He sent me corny videos, songs and gave me the treatment that is given to a friend. He told me his exploits of seduction, his attempts to meet women, he introduced me to his conquests. And sometimes he presented himself as a man who recognized himself as broken. He confessed that he had to establish employment or collaboration contracts to maintain links with women. He said unspeakable things about all those women with whom he shared the school project and repeated many times that he only tolerated them if they were pretty.
Now I know that there were plenty of reasons to get away from there as quickly as possible. I still do not understand why I did not leave before. Narco News did little in the months that followed the SAJ and preceded the elections. I wanted to write, report, learn. But until an incident that Peña Nieto had at a private university in Mexico City (which triggered many things), the work was clumsy and insipid. We only published letters every month from alumni, telling how wonderful the school was and how important the donations were. I must have published just a couple of things, and no more. Because even when Al had said he would teach me, he never did give any advice or direction that could help me write, report or publish any better than I already did when I got there.
In that time, I saw Al more interested in doing parties or meetings than actively publishing and writing. He seemed happy that I was there, and he said that when we organized the 2013 School there would be more work to do. But I was getting desperately bored. And I did not enjoy meetings so much, because I wanted to learn and grow, not just see people get drunk ad sing.
Then came the movement YoSoy 132. Multiple demonstrations against the media’s handling of political campaigns for elections appeared on the streets. So also appeared the attempts to organize the movement, some cells, nodes, communication networks. We, the few people who were close to Al at that time, in response to a call for Facebook to create Operational Groups, thought it would be a good idea to create one.
We called it the “Salón de estrategia”.
It consisted in creating sessions every Tuesday where we would study, discuss, and design actions within the doctrine of Nonviolence. I used the convening capacity that I had developed until then with other collective projects and defended the idea. I invited, and now I am very sorry, many of my friends.
And I’m sorry in this way, so strongly, because I should have foreseen what Al would do with my acquaintances and friends. What would he do with me? I should have stopped him at the time, telling others what he was like, how dangerous it was to have a bond with him, or being close, especially as a woman.
Since Monday, February 19, 2018, almost twenty women, or more, (because many have preferred to remain silent, and I want you to know that I understand you, very deeply, and do not judge you) have made public what Al Giordano did with them.
Some have said that they were sexually harassed. Others say they were laborally abused not receiving adequate payments for collaborations. Others have reported that Al defamed and publicly stated them when they rejected him. There were some, who had been expelled from the school, or from the community. Emotionally manipulated so they don’t speak, don’t question, not even mention Al or SAJ after their expulsion. Others have accused Al Giordano and Gregory Berger of approaching them when they were students of the school, to seduce them, hook them up and make them collaborate freely with the project.
Which of these things did Al with me?
The Salón de estrategia was built in the living room of Al’s house. We were there, students, professionals, journalists, and a little bit of everything. The same number of men as women. Al added a very strong emotional component to the sessions that were organized every Tuesday and to those that we convened through Facebook. He spoke of his experiences, portraying himself as a misunderstood, veteran hero, who knew very well how to be charming with each one of the attendees. Especially women. He repeated a speech of “the super powers” of those who want to change the world.
Since I arrived at his office, the first thing he did to communicate with me was to establish an underlying code that explained the dynamics of his projects. He took me to see a “The fantastic 4” or something so. We, the scholars, alumni and collaborators were the projection of a universe raised in the Marvel comics. If you are not identified with this, I will say that comics work through archetypes that reproduce roles and establish dynamics perfectly congruent with real psychological profiles and that thanks to that, they work as allegories of real life. It does not matter if these allegories are green monsters, or flying men, we make parallels with them, and identify and admire them.
Al knew this. He extrapolated the traumas of the characters and understood the strength that lays within each weakness. Heroes are constructed from the transformation of wounds. The vindication of the vulnerable is a powerful weapon in rhetorical terms. Anyone can analyze this however anyone wants. But if you tell someone dissatisfied with the reality that he is powerful, that he is misunderstood, and that you will be his mentor and his guide, (do you know the Xmen?) It is very likely that his wound will be the best place from which to hook the ropes of manipulation.
He did that. With each one. Sometimes he even asked everyone what his super mutant power was. What greater sympathy can we have than the understanding of someone who values what perhaps no one else perceives as a potential?
It was an intense time. Peña Nieto won the elections. There were protests. Many actions, many links created. In that boiling I started a relationship with someone from the movement Yosoy132, and that completely changed Al’s attitude towards me. The day I told him he did a big tantrum. He started making machinerys being paranoic of the side my then boyfriend was in, pretending he was an infiltrate, saying he was putting NarcoNews at risk. The next day I arrived at the office and made coffee. When he tried it, he threw it and yelled at me. He said that I did not do anything right, not even coffee and he shouted more things. He got up and left and left me alone there. He returned several hours later to find me full of fear. He said that things did not work for him anymore and that from that day on I would have to leave at 2 or earlier, because I was not being useful for the project. I left and I thought about leaving everything that was happening there, quit the pseudo job, leave it all. But I did not.
I thought he was a wounded guy, and that if everyone else considered those emotional breaks part of a “functional” character, maybe it was not so bad. And also I did not have many job options where to go.
Since then I went from being what Al handled before the Strategy Room as the administrator of Narco News, whose opinion he said he respected, whose leadership he thought he strengthened, to be his personal assistant that solved the most stupid tasks in the office. Make coffee, make photocopies, send mail chains. And strangely, while his dealings with me were getting worse, he had begun to flatter me more and more before our community of collaborators and acquaintances of the Salón de estrategia. Before the attendees of the workshops I was the “head” or the “boss” and Al kept saying that to build the image that I had everything under control even if it was not true.
By this point, already in fall, we were facing the proximity of Peña Nieto’s seizure of power, and we were convinced that peaceful strategies had to be built. The room became a kind of circle of friends, which continues in contact until now. There was good cohesion and camaraderie. Even after I left.
Our activities were limited to see us on Tuesdays and serve as a sort of relief. Go together to demonstrations, put art on the streets. Once we tried to do something coordinated but failed with very funny results. As I write this I regret that between these nice groups there had been so much toxicity, because they were so many times divided. They were Al’s products, like his children, but all aborted, sick, or cut in half. Al did not like that there was never anything behind him. He was afraid of infiltrators all the time. He said that his enemies, who were many, as we know today, said that he belonged to the CIA and dismantled his efforts to transfer the wisdom of nonviolent civil resistance.
In that fall I also went to another state to give a nonviolence workshop. We gave several, at least three, two in DF one in Colima. They were good experiences but not much came out of there.
Also at that time I started taking courses on human rights, journalism, communication, and the contrast was enormous with Al Giordano. Outside, journalism went beyond discourses on its practice and had greater discipline. It had theory but also a lot of practice. Complexity. And that, along with the visions of who was then my partner made me take much more distance each time from Al’s speech.
External criticism did not wait around the Salón de estrategia. It was not that we had caused such a stir, but some alternative media criticized the Salon as being a Mexican arm of Gene Sharp’s heirs and we were claimed seeking to destabilize the protest. For me, we were a group too baby to aspire to that.
Shortly before Peña Nieto’s protest takeover as president of the Republic Al began to get very sick. My tasks were still basic, they were still tiny, I was in charge of the Salón de estrategia, I had to publish the events on facebook, and sometimes coordinate the sessions. And we started planning the next school, the one that would happen in 2013. I think we got the call out in november or so, and I think the ICNC financed it again, but I do not remember how that was achieved. The routine had become heavier for me. I lived alone, I worked walking dogs, taking care of Al, organizing the school, and doing translations, reviews, and small jobs that came to me time to time.
Until then he was considered by me as a friend. And I was worried about his health even though I knew how hard he had been with other women. For example, I had learned how bad he had treated two of his former assistants. I had been there when he called me one morning to take a girl out of his appartment because he tought she was going to steal from him. He had said horrible things, the kind a “gentleman” wouldn’t say, as I was said. It was then that I began to notice a pattern. His personality. His relationship with women. His emotional dependance.
Many of the features that Al liked to stand out from himself were those that made him be like Dr. House. This comparison takes much solemnity from all these things that are being said this week around him, because it is really ridiculous, but it is real. And it can be corroborated by many.
In the fall of 2012 Al sent me one morning to buy him a cane. Until then I had never seen the series, but I knew that Al was a fervent admirer of the character of Dr. House. A sick personage, a genius, incapable of maintaining healthy relationships with women, and with unconditional friends who forgave him everything. A guy with a cane who could afford to be considered a bastard. An elderly man alone and sick. Obsessed with his work. Calculator and strategyst.
Anyone who thinks that Al can be appreciated or seen as a genius, and that his actions are justified because they belong to a complex and rich character, can qualify his vision with this, and think if we are dealing with an original character, a fiction with licenses in the real world or a coincidence.
And anyone who’s in the role of Wilson, needs to review the series. For your own good.
Al was very sick, he smoked about thirty cigarettes a day, and drank practically every afternoon, and his illness had sharpened near winter. His friends, who were about two or three, had all many things to do in that time. Although my schedule had been reduced, giving me freedom in the afternoons, I was still aware of many of the tasks that Al left me.
Tasks that were still strangely stupid, some that I considered degrading, and obsolete. Since I had started that relationship with the guy in the movement, it seemed that Al needed to assert his power over me by confirming my subordination all the time, and letting me see when we were alone that his sympathy for me and my supposed super powers, was over.
When this started to happen I felt liberated. But then another program was launched to keep me close. Al had a health crisis that threw him into bed for many weeks, and that’s where the work abuse that I was subjected of, began.
He started to ask me to go get him his breakfast, to take him his medicines, to get him doctors. In the worst moments, he even asked me to empty a pitcher of water that he filled with urine because he could not get up. The work to organize the school was still ongoing. I kept walking dogs and writing, and also helped Al extra hours because he was very bad. I came to tell him, with the license he granted to be considered a friend of his, that he had to take care of his health. Give up smoking. Stop drinking, and go to therapy. He responded badly and told me not to get into his life.
He continually told me about his relationship with his mentors, and told me that he would have given his life for them, that he always helped them and that he was there to clean up their vomit, hold their head when they were overdosed, feed them and help them in their worst moments. His idea of loyalty was exaggeratedly romanticized. My days were strenuous, I had to pay the rent, and he knew it. He came to tell me that this work was not corporate at all and that everything was more flexible, so changes in my tasks were normal. The payments before winter arrived on time, but for my last stage in NN they were not fair.
I told Al, and his friends, several times, that he needed help, that Al was not doing his part and that what he required was a nurse. I saw how much he spent on alcohol and I could not believe that he paid me what he paid me, and that he did not consider investing in his health. He began to tell me that without me, the SAJ of 2013 would not be possible, and the call had already been published, so the applications had already begun to arrive. Continuosly, at night, he used to tell me that he was considering suicide. He was trying me to manipulate me in order to keep working for him.
We checked the arriving applications letters thoroughly as they came, and I noticed that Al and Greg were asking for the Facebook profile for two reasons. First, to corroborate the legitimacy of the contact; their connections, if they had any link with the “excluded”, and if they were women, to choose them based on their beauty or their youth.
During my stay at NarcoNews I learned that he seduced people from the circle we shared, and that he manipulated them into believing that he was in love until the girls broke the bond. I witnessed his misogyny, and the hatred and resentment he had for those women who rejected him. I saw how he threatened to destroy the careers of those who came to question him. And I was afraid of him, in some way.
I felt trapped, manipulated, blackmailed, used. In winter Al kept the windows of his house-office closed, he smoked all the time, and did not let me breathe. If I questioned that, he scolded me, shouted, and blackmailed again. He even threatened to commit suicide on the grounds that he was very lonely, sick and miserable, and called my ask for opening windows a big drama.
I left him one night, after having asked him to hire a nurse. He refused and was upset. I could not stand it anymore and I was very upset and indignated with everything I was seeing. His way of planning the School was creepy. During the first dinner of admitted to the SAJ of 2013, when they were already many in their house, drinking beer and eating cheeses and snacks, I told Al that I had to leave early. I was cold, I was shaking, and I was very nervous. I collected my things from the office and left without saying goodbye to anyone, very quickly, thinking that I was doing something wrong and getting into the car of someone who had come to pick me up.
When I got in the car I did not want to close the door or the window. I felt suffocated. I could not talk well or cry, or breathe either. I had a panic attack.
I cried months later, when I understood that I was being abused laborly and emotionally and after a while I got over it. The SAJ 2013 developed normally with the help of other people. I did not heard about Al Giordano again. I only knew that he said later that I tried to sabotage the school. That I was a traitor, and that no one should keep in touch with me.
When the testimonies of many other women came to light this week I understood many things. The modus operandi of Al Giordano and his school are very clear:
- Under the premise of helping young journalists, the SAJ collects money every year. This money goes to the very organization of the school, (which only lasts 7 or 10 days) but especially goes to the pockets of its organizers. (Of which not all are paid fairly or equally, according to some of them).
- Al always has an assistant who calls “director”, and she is always a woman because in this way, in a leftist environment, nobody can say that there are no female leaders, as he even said to me once.
- These directors, like their collaborators, are always seduced or tried to be seduced by him. Sometimes, when he can not have anything with them, he blackmails them, threatens them and exerts psychological violence. For him, his position as director of the SAJ is a perfect excuse, and unquestionable, to get close to women.
- His conquests are always women much younger than him
- After school, students are required to write letters of recommendation to raise funds.
- The school in turn functions as a cult. It develops around an unquestioned leader, disobedience is punished with banishment, the mere mention of a doubt merits expulsion. The dissatisfied is called a saboteur and banished. In each edition the following conditions are met: the process of administration creates in the admitted a “chosen” treatment, there is a strong emotional component in each activity. There is food, alcohol, drugs, and sleep deprivation. The activities are one after another causing fatigue and lack of time to assimilate reality. During school, while inside, attendees are prohibited from disclosing the location and communicating with the outside world.
- Each year the community is renewed but only keeps in it those who remain for apparent loyalty, who perform volunteer work that is capitalized in several ways. The participants’ ego is nourished with the idea that they are special, rather than those outside.
- Within the teachings of the school, a “training” system is always managed as a program that is inserted in the assistants and later operates through them. As crazy as it seems.
Comments on recent events:
After I published the first part of this story, Al Giordano contacted me. He appealed to my kindness and used his health condition, asking me not to attack anyone but him, since as he alleged, I have done it against women leaders of his project. He called himself my mentor and said I am a good writer.
I want to make clear that this story is written to record my vision of the facts. That I do not blame or criticize who stays next to Al Giordano, because I know how difficult it is to leave because of the level of blackmail and manipulation. That I totally let go of having any contact with him and his projects. And that I am here for those who want support while recovering from systematic abuses. We are not alone.
I apologize for inviting to the Salón de estrategia the people was later hurt by Al, but I did not know the extent of the damage, and even though I feel responsible, and I know that his abuse is not my fault, I want to be part of what we require to repair the damage.
About the comments that some people have made, about whether this cascade of testimonies is a lynching, I would like to think that it is not. That is just an attempt to prevent this kind of abuse, harassment, and license to defame and mistreat women, keep happening. It has to stop. There must be consequences. We all have to learn.
Although the first part of this testimony shows a fiction, I want to make clear that the text is part of my attempts to sublimate what was a hard time of my life. Only the first paragraph can be read metaphorically, as it is written. The rest of my testimony is written according to my records in my diaries, letters, correspondence with friends, and my own memory. Much of this information is easily corroborated.
For many, these coming stories are not much of a story. You may question what an abuse is, what sexual harassment is, what laboral abuse is, you can question how bad emotional manipulations is. But think of how bad it is that the called director of a school takes advantage so many times of his position to get close to women, to treat them bad, to say lies abut them, to threaten them. And think how bad it is that this school is funded by other people’s money, when they think what SAJ is “helping journalists”, is it a 10 day party thrown once a year, really helpful for journalists? how harassing women and being abusive can be seen as a help to journalism?
Message to Al Giordano:
Al, you’re not my mentor. You did not want to be. You just wanted to have sex with me. Be real for a moment.
My mentors are mostly women, they have supported me, taught me, strengthened me, paid for work, protected, understood, been there when I needed them. They have helped me to have discipline with love. And that love is intact. None has harassed me. None has manipulated me. None has slandered me. And none has exiled me.
No one is responsible for your actions, your health condition, and your decisions, more than yourself. And nobody should pay the high price you charge in exchange for what you call teachings. I do not applaud your project.
As for us, the women you abused so many ways, we will move on. We have each other.