Who Smashed the Laptops from Occupy Wall Street? Inside the NYPD’s Lost and Found

MBD-Who Smashed the Laptops from Occupy Wall Street_(audio)

Written by Brian A. Anderson for Motherboard.tv

If you’re looking to recover any personal effects swept up early Tuesday morning in the NYPD raid on Zuccotti Park, epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement, there’s only one place that may have what you’re looking for. Only it doesn’t have a marked address.

The Department of Sanitation has a brand new building. Situated at 650 W. 57th Street – the corner of 12th Ave. and 57th St., in the wastelandish Far West Side – Sanitation’s address is only marked on the 57th St. side, with no sign or anyone around to point out the recovery booth, which is around the back side in a stark, wind-tunnel underpass. (To be sure, this Sanitation press release gives a run down for all those looking to recover property.)

This is where we find Isaac Wilder, head of the Free Network Foundation, late Thursday morning. Wilder, who we first met on Day 3 of the occupation, is an integral part of OWS’ Signal Corps, a working group that had been dedicated to providing free Wi-Fi to demonstrators within Zuccotti. During the raid, all of Wilder’s stuff, including the FNF’s Freedom Tower, a thin, maybe nine-foot-tall pole, loaded on all sides with nondescript routers that had been beaming out wireless access since early on in the occupation, was confiscated not long after he and another 200 or so protestors were hauled away after barricading themselves in the middle of the park. Matt LiPani, a Sanitation representative, tells us that in the raid’s aftermath 151 Sanitation workers carted away the belongings to 650 W. 57th St. in “our collection trucks.”

And so now, at the unmarked underpass entrance, Wilder’s looking for his backpack, and his Freedom Tower. And $5000 in cash. This is all the money he has.

No press is being allowed in to check out what we quickly hear is a large heap of damp, mangled, cat-piss smelling stuff. So Wilder heads in on his own at around 10:30 AM, turning back to us and giving a quick, solemn head-nod before disappearing inside.

After about 30 minutes he sends us a text: “no sign of tower or backpack.” When he finally surfaces after another 30 minutes, descending a staircase into the howling, drabish underpass, the face gives it away.

Wilder hasn’t slept much in the last 36 hours. He looks shelled, haggard. He told us earlier how he and many others affiliated with the Signal Corps were held in a separate “dungeon-like” cell below the main holding tank at 1 Police Plaza in Lower Manhattan beginning early Tuesday morning through Wednesday evening. But beyond that, his report from inside the heap holds true: No backpack. No cash. No tower.

Worse, it was as if someone along the way purposefully destroyed all confiscated electronics, a strategic smashing of at least part of the digital record logged by full-on occupiers. “Dude, all the laptops are in a row,” he tells us, baffled and raking his shock of brown hair. “They’ve all been smashed with bats.” When asked about the mangled property, LiPani admits that, inevitably, certain items could’ve been damaged in the shuffle: “I’m not surprised,” he says, to hear of damaged laptops. He adds that the DSNY is providing clearance forms to those occupiers concerned their property may’ve been mishandled or misplaced.

But Wilder wants footage – visual proof to show to whoever it is he hopes will step up, legally, to defend the FNF. Hell, we want footage. At some risk, admittedly, we hand him an iPhone. He heads back inside.

Resurfacing a few minutes later, he shows us these:

It’s exactly two months into “Occupy,” now a global movement. Until now, Wilder has been staunchly advocating for what he sees as something extending beyond the confines of any single occupied space: decentralized, open-source, free networks. He may very well still be all about that mission.

But something just seems off. Something has shifted – in Wilder, in OWS. “Maybe we don’t need the tower,” he admits, a marked repositioning of what we’ve come to know of this well-spoken 21-year-old college drop-out from Kansas City. Maybe an occupation doesn’t need material components, he goes on. Maybe we don’t need the park.

With that, as we all make way for the Columbus Circle subway, an older woman representing Zuccotti’s Comfort Committee working group catches Wilder by the sleeve. She hands him a red scarf. It’s brisk, windy. Low 40s.

“You see?” he says, turning to us while wrapping the wool snug around his neck. “You see what happens when you just let go? You get things.”

By Brian A. Anderson, with additional reporting by Erin Lee Carr and Chris Gill. Reach Brian at brian@motherboard.tv. Follow Motherboard on Twitter.
Images via Isaac Wilder


Just got back from a full day following OWS madness.

Taji Ameen took some great photos at Canal while I hung around Zuccotti Park to see what would go down between the increasingly sleep-deprived cops, the pushy tourists, and the hyper-aggresive media people. Most of the occupiers had either been thrown in jail or had left the area.

Zuccotti Park- Cleared out

It turned out to be seven hours of chopper noise and humming. There were a few attempts at the now infamous “people’s microphone,” but in all the times I’ve been down there I’ve never heard it so quiet. It was eerie to stand among 100 or so demonstrators and have it still be so subdued. The crowd marched from Foley square, shouting out “Whose streets? Our streets…” but mostly their voices had been broken by sleeping on the ground, 10,000 rolled cigarettes and the fact that it was day 60 of the Occupation.

"Come down and Join Us" OWS'ers act as Rumpelstiltskin

Noise finally erupted when the NYPD allowed protestors back into the park at 7pm with the caveat that “they are not allowed to lie down.” All of the protestors became joyous, smiling and waving their huge American flags around, but part of me remained cynical. Yes, we had won the blow, but had we even won the battle? People were allowed back into the park but with no gear, tents or “occupy” materials of any kind.

How is #OWS to move forward? (Read More)

Also: a subject we’ve been following since Day 3 is AWOL, we assume he was thrown in the clink during the 1am raid last night. We hope to meet up with him on Thursday, which promises to be the biggest turning point yet, they have named it the Day of Action.

Helicopter (Media or NYPD?)

The Thorium Dream (FULL LENGTH)

Above: watch Motherboard’s documentary “The Thorium Dream” in its entirety. Trailer here.

Originally written for Motherboard.tv by Alex Pasternack

If the year is 2011, you are likely watching the above video on a Mac OS computer or a Windows computer. Those two obvious possibilities represent only the tail end of many not-so-obvious choices, the ones that determine, for better or worse, the direction that technology takes. Some things win and other things lose; some operating systems succeed, building on previous ideas, and others end up in the trash can of history. Or, in the case of Windows (which Apple once claimed “stole” the idea from Mac OS), the Recycle Bin. The trash is where Xerox’s Alto operating system ended up after inspiring both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to develop their own graphical user interface, the front-end of computers that we now take for granted.

There’s much to take for granted in the evolution of technology, or at least in the way that technology appears to us today – refined, perfected, ever cutting-edge. In the case of energy, where innovation has never been more sorely wanted, what we take for granted are a set of circumstances that are both entrenched and terrible. Coal and oil and natural gas seem like the only sure-fire ways of providing base-load energy, if your only criteria is cheap electricity. Globally, if they don’t look paltry, our energy and resource supplies are becoming increasingly costly to extract and use. Demand has never been higher; ditto levels of CO2 and other terrible greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Nuclear energy is powerful, but it’s even worse than the others, given persistent waste storage issues (these really need to end) and the threat of proliferation.

So fixed do these set of circumstances sound that when the topic of thorium comes up at a party in a webpage comment string, it elicits either a yawning eyeroll or an eye’s glint of hope.

In our case, it was the latter. While the idea of building small, thorium-based nuclear reactors – thought to be dramatically safer, cheaper, cleaner and terror-proof than our current catalog of reactors – can be shooed away as fringe by some, the germ of the idea began in the U.S. government’s major atomic lab, at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in the 1960s. It’s only in the past half-decade that the idea has picked up steam again on the Internet, thanks to enterprising enthusiasts who have chronicled the early experiments, distributed documents, and posted YouTube videos. But if thorium’s second life on the Internet has grown the flock of adherents exponentially, it’s also pulled in more than a few people whose nuclear expertise doesn’t extend far past Wikipedia, adding a sheen of hype to the proceedings.

Still, the idea has legs, if new research programs by India and China are any indication. The former has just announced a prototype thorium-based advanced heavy water reactor, while the latter is researching a liquid fuel reactor based on the 1960s design. In the U.S., the race is being advanced not by the government but by some of the central movers and shakers of the Internet movement.

One of them, Kirk Sorensen, left his engineering job to study nuclear physics and start a company devoted to building small, modular liquid fluoride thorium reactors. The goal now may be to build some for the military, a tactic that would circumvent many of the challenges of building commercial reactors in the U.S. We met Kirk at the Thorium Energy Alliance summit in Washington, as well as an Army colonel focused on energy, and the head of the alliance, the thorium advocate and industrial engineer John Kutsch. We also interviewed Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at the Atlantic and author of Powering the Dream, a history of green technology evangelism, David Biello, associate editor at Scientific American, and Phillip Musegaas, the director of Riverkeeper’s Hudson River Program, which keeps careful tabs on the Indian Point Power Station, the aging nuclear plant that sits 30 miles from New York City. The nuclear physicist Alvin Weinberg, who led the first thorium reactor experiment, makes a cameo as well.

The story was enriched, so to speak, by the multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which shed new light on the drawbacks of the aging reactor technology that beat thorium-based reactors to the punch in the 1960s: the uranium-based light water reactor. Another in a long line of technological lock-ins, this was the result of great, bullish investment into a design that was born before safety and proliferation were major concerns. The thorium story, then, is not just one of new opportunities, but a cautionary tale about the mistakes we make on the paths we take. They aren’t always paths toward progress, but with the right guides, and the right questions, new trails might be blazed – hopefully in better ways and toward better directions than the previous ones.

There are many lingering questions about thorium, including sourcing the fuel, regulations, industrial inertia and persistent fears about radiation. While the disaster at Fukushima raised the specter of atomic destruction and pushed countries like Germany and Switzerland to announce an end to their nuclear programs, it’s also proved to be another teachable moment about how and why technologies come to be, and how to improve them. In the interest of cutting greenhouse gases, prominentclimate scientists and environmentalists and technologists and presidents still argue that nuclear is a worthy enough technology to keep researching and improving.

The confusion and trepidation and sluggishness that have set in around the world make improvements look harder than usual. But they also offer up opportunities for reflection, a chance to calculate new approaches. Progress will depend upon on how much we’ve really learned from history, how smart we choose to be about weighing our needs against our fears, and how willing we are to test new ideas. Even if and especially if those ideas were buried in the garbage a long time ago.

The Thorium Dream (Screening)

Yesterday MOTHERBOARD and Co had a screening for the long awaited Thorium Documentary (out tomorrow on Motherboard and next week on Vice.com). Shout out to Hugo Perez, Alex Pasternack and Sean Yeaton. What-a-team!

Afterwards Alex Pasternack stood up for a Q and A session for the audience. He was into it.

Links for the complete piece coming soon!

Motherboard TV: Love And Hate At Comic Con (Full Version)

Originally written for Motherboard.tv

To be sure, Motherboard is proud of the claim it’s staked on the frontier of the nerds; it’s not our fault that a lot of this backcountry is inhabited by just as many questionably inappropriate ne’er-do-wells as it is heroes, kings and queens. That being said, it was without question that we would travel to the nerd equivalent of Mecca, also known as New York Comic Con.


We shot the breeze with devoted fans, dedicated impersonators and enough nuts to make trail mix feel overwhelmed. All in all it felt like going home. When you’re done watching, be sure to check out the photos we shot while we were there for additional gold that didn’t make it into the documentary and watch our footage from Dragon Con if you’re still feeling hungry for more costumed shenanigans.

– Erin Lee Carr

Follow Motherboard on Twitter @MotherboardTV

Drive: 80s Hard Boiled Antihero Electro Music Saga

I encountered Drive in a double header at the AMC in Times Square. I had come for The Skin I Live In and stayed for Drive.

There were countless times when the intended B-movie Drive could have turned into a cheesy, cliché film and yet it remained intact. Pulpy, bloody and undeniably moving Drive took me by surprise. It always impresses me when actors can manage to stay silent and let their bodies speak for themselves. Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan were perfection at physically manifesting their feelings and inner desires.

Carey Mulligan is not my jam, her body and features represent an infantilization that I think Hollywood has run rampant with. To me, she looks like a 14 year old British boy and yet … she has her moments of brilliance. My favorite scene occurs when there is a welcome home party for her husband, who has recently been freed from jail. She relishes  in watching her son and husband reconnect but in the next scene she is sitting on the floor outside her apartment, balloons already deflating. Her character is drawn to Ryan Gosling even if the present circumstances don’t allow for their relationship. “Under Your Spell” by Desire has been playing in the backround but comes to the foreground as they look at each other. There is something about her, about this song, I can’t help but melt.  The song, in any other context would be completely vapid and circular but in this moment, everything about it works.

“Nightcall” by Kavinsky is the standout track of the ost. I am not an electrogirl but this song makes sense to my brain. It’s almost as if an algorithm has been created for the perfect electro song.

“There is something inside you.
 It’s hard to explain,
 They’re talking about you, boy.
 But you’re still the same.”
Nothing new has been uttered here, mysticism should be a part of every relationship. This song, produced by French House artist Kavinsky is the perfect blend of nostalgia, beats and an indefinable source. This song and film has bewitched me and has shown no sign of letting go.

It's hammer time!