International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International Vol. 15 No. 3-4 (July-December 1988)

A Warning to All Workers: Reject Mark Curtis Defense Campaign

The Workers League calls on all workers, trade unionists and civil rights activists to reject and oppose the phony defense campaign being conducted by the Socialist Workers Party on behalf of Mark Curtis. This campaign, which is building up a proven rapist as some sort of working class hero, is a dangerous political provocation aimed at discrediting the labor and socialist movement.

Curtis, a 29-year-old leader of the SWP, was convicted September 14 of raping a 15-year-old black high school student, Demetria Morris, in Des Moines, Iowa. In addition to the charge of sexual abuse (rape) in the third degree, he was found guilty on a second felony count, burglary in the first degree, for forcing his way into the Morris’s family home on March 4, 1988, where the rape took place.

Curtis was arrested inside the house by police who responded to a 911 emergency call from Jason Morris, Demetria’s 11-year-old brother, reporting a rape in progress. When the two policemen approached the front door, Demetria Morris stumbled out, naked from the waist down, while Curtis fled to the back of the house with his underpants around his ankles. There he was caught and arrested.

All those familiar with the evidence presented at trial are outraged over the SWP’s cynical attempt to present Curtis as the victim of a frame-up.

The case against Curtis is open-and-shut. He was caught in the act, and identified by Demetria, Jason and both policemen at his trial. Demetria Morris, now 16 years old, testified in great detail about the attack, which included a savage beating by Curtis to her head and back, leaving bruises as large as a half dollar. Curtis cursed her repeatedly and threatened both her and her brother, claiming he had a knife.

The Socialist Workers Party has waged a national and international campaign for the last six months, portraying Curtis as the victim of a police frame-up and conspiracy. But the trial, including Curtis’s own testimony and the final arguments of his lawyer, confirmed that the real conspiracy is being carried out by Curtis and the leadership of the SWP. They have been seeking to cover up a vicious crime committed against a working class youth and transform Curtis into an international martyr.

Demetria Morris is from a working class family. Her father Keith, who now owns his own truck and operates a one-man hauling business, is a longtime construction worker and was the first black cement mason in Iowa, breaking the color bar in the union. His wife Denise is a laid off worker from the Firestone plant, where Keith Morris participated in a campaign to force the company to hire blacks.

The SWP’s campaign against the Morris family is a campaign against the working class. Only politically corrupt middle class organizations will join Curtis and the SWP in attacking the Morris family. The deeply reactionary nature of the SWP’s campaign is shown by the incident October 19, when a KKK cross-burning was carried out on the lawn outside Demetria Morris’s home. Fascist scum like the KKK are rallying to the side of the SWP, to defend the white middle class rapist of a black working class girl.

In Des Moines itself, where the case has become well known, there is widespread anger against the SWP, both in the working class areas and among those professionals involved in the support and defense of rape victims. The vast majority of trade unions in the Des Moines area have refused to give any support to the Curtis case. Marti Anderson, head of Polk County Victim Services and longtime feminist activist, has written a letter stating that she was “appalled’’ by the support for Curtis, and declaring, “The conviction was clearly justified. Had we not been able to obtain a conviction with this kind of clear evidence, the morale of the rape care movement would have been devastated. Our ability to help future rape victims through the criminal justice process would have been seriously eroded.”

Keith Morris, the father of the victim, has sent a letter to trade unionists who have supported Curtis, making a powerful indictment of the SWP campaign. He writes, “Words cannot express the contempt I feel for an organization, especially one which claims to fight in the interests of workers, whose leaders are knowingly defending a proven rapist and even attempting to turn him into some kind of civil-rights martyr.... Curtis’s supporters, and the people who align themselves with Curtis, to me are like jackals. They can only find strength in an unthinking pack.”

The SWP has claimed that Curtis is the victim of a politically motivated frame-up carried out by the Des Moines police and the Polk County prosecutors. There is no doubt that the cops in Des Moines, as in every other city in America, are capable of the most monstrous frame-ups. But such frame-ups always contain factual inconsistencies, internal contradictions or outright falsifications. The victims of such frame-ups invariably expose these weak points as part of the struggle to win support for their defense.

In the Mark Curtis case, the SWP has proceeded quite differently. For months it screamed “frame-up,” while never making any factual analysis of the case or presenting a detailed accounting of the facts to the working class and socialist public. Then at the trial, the claims of frame-up completely collapsed, as Curtis’s attorney declared that neither Demetria, Jason, the two policemen or any other witness were part of a conspiracy. “We’ve alleged no conspiracy,” he said in his closing argument.

The central weakness in the claim of frame-up is Curtis’s presence inside the Morris family home, where he was arrested. Curtis and the SWP have attempted to deal with his problem by inventing a story so absurd and incredible that, as Demetria Morris’s father said, “Not even a little child would believe it.”

Curtis claimed that after he left his home on the night of March 4, 1988, a mysterious woman ran up to his car while he was stopped at a red light. He allowed this “young black woman” to get into his car, and she told him she was fleeing an attacker and wanted him to drive her home. He agreed, and she directed him to the Morris’s family home on 17th Street, about eight blocks from his own house. She asked him to go inside with her while she checked the house to see if the attacker had got there first. While he was standing inside the house, the woman disappeared, and police rushed in the front door, grabbed him, pulled down his pants, and arrested him for rape.

Curtis’s account is completely unsupported by any evidence, and directly contradicts the testimony of Demetria and Jason. Moreover, if Curtis’s claim that the rape charge is a frame-up were true, it would require an unbelievably complicated and unworkable mechanism to bring it about. Every step of the way from his house to the living room of Demetria Morris’s house, it was Curtis, not the police or the Morris family, who was making the decisions. If the home of the Morris family was a police trap, and Curtis was manipulated into going there, the SWP and Curtis would have to answer the following questions:

  • How did the police know that Curtis was going to abruptly leave his house in the middle of the night? How did they know he would drive by himself?
  • How did they know which store he would go to and what route he would take? How did they know that he would be stopped at a particular red light, where he could be accosted by the woman?
  • How did they know that he would let the woman into his car? How did they know he would agree to drive her home?
  • How did they know that when he arrived at her home, he would get out of his car, go inside the house, and then wait placidly to be arrested?
  • Above all, how could the police recruit an entire black working class family, including a 15-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother, and rely on them to play the most critical roles in the conspiracy?

When Curtis was cross-examined during the trial, evidence emerged to show what really brought him to the Morris’s house on March 4, 1988. In the course of her testimony, Demetria Morris said that the man who knocked on her door that night had asked if this was 1545 17th Street, and if a Keith or Bonita lived there.

At first this appeared to have been a ploy used by Curtis to gain entry to the Morris house. But then it was discovered there really was a Keith and a Bonita, Keith Morrison and Bonita Brown, living at 1545 17th Street, three doors down from the Morris’s house. Moreover, they had been Curtis’s neighbors, living across the street from him on 25th Street, until March 3, 1988, the day before the rape, when they moved to 17th Street.

Curtis himself admitted that Keith Morrison made his living selling drugs. He denied that he had gone looking for his former neighbor at his new address on the night of March 4, 1988. Curtis’s denials include a claim that he had never spoken to Keith Morrison and did not know him, but Bonita Brown followed Curtis to the stand, testifying that he had spoken to both her and Morrison, and more frequently to Morrison.

This reveals the full depths of the fraud which is being perpetrated by the Socialist Workers Party, in seeking to present a piece of middle class filth like Mark Curtis as a “political prisoner.” The only conclusion that can be drawn from the testimony is that Curtis, who had just cashed his paycheck, was looking for Keith Morrison in order to buy drugs. Frustrated in his desire to locate the drug dealer, and finding Demetria Morris alone, Curtis decided to satisfy his twisted inner impulses in an even baser and more violent way, through rape.

After Curtis’s conviction, the SWP has intensified its defense campaign, relying on the political cynicism and hatred of the working class in the middle class radical circles to which it is appealing. The SWP has piled lie upon lie, claiming that the trial of Curtis produced “overwhelming evidence of his innocence.” In fact, the only evidence presented by the defense was a series of so-called character witnesses, members of Curtis’s family and of the SWP who testified what a wonderful man the rapist was, and the bizarre and unbelievable story told by Curtis himself.

The facts which were brought out at the three-day trial conclusively demonstrated Curtis’s guilt. The defense case was left in such a shambles that Curtis’s defense attorney, Mark Pennington, was compelled to admit in his closing argument that Curtis’s version of how he got to Demetria Morris’s house, the story of the mystery woman at the red light, was “very unlikely.”

Pennington’s basic argument was that the very brazenness of Curtis’s denial of guilt, in the face of four eyewitnesses and massive evidence, should be a reason to find him innocent. “You usually don’t have such evidence and a defendant maintaining he’s not guilty,” he said. “I’m not stupid, it won’t be easy for you to acquit Mark Curtis.”

What kind of organization is so hostile to the working class as to condone the vicious rape of a 15-year-old working class youth. What kind of organization makes its major political focus the defense of a sadistic rapist and the vilification of his victim and her family? The so-called Socialist Workers Party, despite its name, is not socialist, is not comprised of workers, and is not even a genuine political party. The SWP only employs the label “socialist” in order to discredit it. It is an organization riddled with police agents and provocateurs. The federal government has admitted that it had 1,600 agents and informers in and around the SWP between 1960 and 1976.

The SWP points to Curtis’s leading role in the party as though it was proof of his innocence. But the man who led the SWP’s trade union work for years, Edward Heisler, admitted in 1980 that he had worked as an FBI informer for two decades, revealing that he had turned over thousands of pages of documents and hundreds of names of trade union militants and socialist-minded workers to the FBI. It later emerged that Heisler had been involved in drug dealing and other criminal ventures, carried out under cover of his SWP activity.

When Heisler made his confession, it was covered up by the SWP leadership, which had selected him for the highest positions in the party—the national committee, the political committee, the administrative secretariat. He was chosen as the chairman of the SWP’s 1976 presidential campaign, and made the major public spokesman for the party. This FBI agent was so brazen that in 1975 he appeared before a Senate committee investigating CIA crimes to denounce the infiltration of CIA agents into the socialist movement!

There exists massive evidence to document the charge by the Workers League that the government agents have taken control of every major position in the Socialist Workers Party, transforming the SWP into a direct agency of the capitalist state. This includes the highest level of the SWP leadership—those calling the shots in the Mark Curtis case—SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes and his clique. Barnes and 11 other top SWP leaders all attended the same small, conservative college, Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, in the early 1960s, and then mysteriously entered the SWP and took over all its leading positions, which they have controlled for the last 20 years.

The launching of the Mark Curtis Defense Campaign is not a mistake, but a deliberate political provocation. The SWP leadership is campaigning for Mark Curtis, not because they believe he is innocent, but because they know he is guilty.

This government-manipulated organization is mounting a campaign which denigrates the whole working class and drags the labor movement and its traditions of solidarity and struggle through the mud. The SWP’s attempts to associate Curtis with genuine heroes and martyrs of the working class like Joe Hill, or Sacco and Vanzetti, is nothing short of obscene.

They are playing on the natural sympathy which workers feel for victims of police brutality in order to gather support in the labor movement and among civil liberties groups, not only throughout the United States, but in Canada, Britain, New Zealand and other countries. By perpetrating a gigantic hoax on the labor movement, they hope to discredit future defense campaigns for legitimate victims of government frame-up.

There is another, even more dangerous side to the Curtis operation. The cross-burning incident in Des Moines is not an aberration. Through the defense of the rapist of a black working class girl, the SWP leadership is deliberately rallying the scum of the earth around itself to attack the working class. The Curtis campaign follows in the footsteps of another campaign which brought the SWP into direct association with fascists—its 1987 effort defending the Nazi mass murderers John Demjanjuk (“Ivan the Terrible”) and Karl Linnas and opposing their deportation from the United States.

The continuation of the Mark Curtis campaign is extremely dangerous for the workers’ movement. All genuine labor defense cases will be under a shadow from this case. All genuine socialists are being smeared by having this rapist, pathological liar and drug user falsely associated with socialism and the struggle for the liberation of the working class.

The leadership of the Socialist Workers Party is using the Curtis campaign to collect information, raise money and build up this criminal as a person of authority in the workers’ movement. The SWP actually took this sociopath and put him in front of striking IP workers at a mass rally in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania.

The Mark Curtis Defense Campaign amounts to taking the workers’ movement for a ride—and making a profit doing it. While hundreds of trade unionists have signed up to support Mark Curtis, based on a falsification of the facts of the case and a bogus appeal to labor solidarity, Curtis’s paymasters are laughing all the way to the bank. They are raking in money from this scam, and even waved a wad of $100 bills in front of Keith Morris when he protested their campaign against his family.

The SWP has already raised $70,000, supposedly for the costs of investigations related to a case in which no evidence was presented by the defense. There has been no accounting given for the funds, and now the SWP is seeking another $60,000 by the end of the year.

The Workers League calls on all workers and working class organizations, in the United States and internationally, to take warning. The SWP and the Mark Curtis campaign should be treated like the plague.