Interview: Joel Almgren of Fånggruppen

Antifascists fight the SMR on December 13, 2015

Antifascists fight the SMR on December 13, 2015

On the 15th of December, 2013, the local residents of the Kärrtorp area of Stockholm gathered in their neighborhood. Several hundred people of all sorts, including the elderly pensioners, parents with baby strollers in tow, and young people organized a demonstration against a nazi organization that had been spreading nazi propaganda in local schools, and attacking anti-racist residents of the area. During their peaceful protest, they were attacked by Sweden’s most militant Nazi group, the Swedish Resistance Movement (SMR). The SMR attacked with knives, sticks, and glass bottles.

As the residents of Kärrtorp retreated, Anti-Fascist Action and the leftist Revolutionary Front clashed with the SMR. As a result of the attack, over 20,000 local residents gathered on December 22nd to send a clear message to the nazis that they were unwelcome in the neighborhood. However, antifa member Joel Almgren was arrested by police as a result of the violence, and convicted of attempted murder for stabbing an SMR member in the back. Almgren is now serving his sentence in a Swedish prison.

Joel Almgren

Joel Almgren

Joel’s girlfriend Emma is coordinating the Free Joel campaign to secure his release, and coordinated our interview.

How do you look upon what happened in Kärrtorp today?

We shouldn’t have to need to experience what happened in Kärrtorp to see how close to us the fascism is and growing. And now a year after what has happening it seems already been forgotten….

I haven’t changed my view about what happened that day. I don’t need to experience “Kärrtorp” to be reminded how important it is to take the fight to the streets. I have seen Nazis attack [demonstrations], [antiracist] concerts and union blockades all my life. It [doesn’t] take a rocket scientist to figure out that antifascism is self-defense.

How do you look upon your trial, your sentence and the attention from the media?

There’s maybe not much to say about the [trial]. Me and my attorney thought that both trials went good but apparently it didn’t. I did hope for a shorter sentence and that the judges would see the situation for what it was, that is self-defense. But on the other hand I was prepared for a longer sentence than I got. Of course I think that I would get acquitted but you have to be realistic and I refuse to sit here almost 4 years and get bitter.

The attention from the media had no proportions at all. They published articles about me with my personal numbers and pictures. But they didn’t published information about the nazis who threw bottles and firework against children and old people. The author of one of the articles even sat on TV and told that they didn’t exposed.
I haven’t raped or killed anyone; I have defended a legal demonstration when the police [were] not able to. Jimmy Åkesson (the leader of a Swedish racist party) gets a cake in his face and they say that’s a threat against the democracy but when Nazis [attack] a demonstration it’s a fight between extremists.

What’s antifascism to you?

I think that the antifascism in Sweden has slipped behind. It’s been made in a square pattern and I think it’s time for the antifascist groups in Sweden to sit down and evaluate the past 5-10 years. Also I think we should put more effort to build up the autonomous left and less in chasing Nazis.

Antifascism to me is to get from word to action. Most of the people with a brain can see that we don’t want fascists marching on the streets but that [doesn’t] make all of them an antifascist.

The people of Karrtorp rally against racism on December 22, 2015

The people of Karrtorp rally against racism on December 22, 2015

Do you feel that you had big support? If yes, from where have you got that support from?

I think that I got more support than I deserve. All the people who have been involved in the campaign have been doing an enormously good work.

I have received letter/cards/support from Russia, New [Zealand], Mexico, Chile, Europe, USA, and U.K to mention some. I feel a little bit spoiled on that actually, but I am forever grateful to all those who [have] been in touch. The time wouldn’t have gone so fast as it has done if it wasn’t for all these letters [especially] the time I spent in custody. I think it is hard for someone to imagine what it’s like in custody. To be isolated for 24 hours a day, accused of something that could give you a long sentence hasn’t been easy. But thanks to [all the letters] I received I held myself above the surface. Apparently this has provoked the Kriminalvården (The Swedish prison and probation service) that the support has been this extensive. A huge amount of letters [have] been stopped, they have [tried to hide] some of the senders’ addresses. They have [taken] away all my unguarded visits and have done so because “they want to restrict my contact surfaces”. The result of this is that I haven’t been able to see my son in more than 17 weeks and as it seems like in this present maybe we are not able to do at all during my time in prison. All I [have been] given is guarded visiting 1 hour at the time and my son is not able to come on one of those. The inquiry they made on Kumla has been used now to put me in higher security.

I want at the same time [to point] out that this treatment and the lack of [being] able to have contact with my son aren’t unique. A lot of [inmates] are denied contact with their children and are transferred to a prison far away from their families.

I lost track from the question there but the support has been from all kinds of people. Unexpected big support has been from the hardcore scene that has made me extra thrilled as it [was] there I got politicized.

What [is] good prison support to you?

It’s a lot of components that decides [good] prison support. To mention some of them,

  • One thing that often [gets] forgotten is the family to the one in prison. All the focus is on the one in prison or custody but the rest of the family is [also] afflicted.
  • To have a good contact with the attorney helps a lot.
  • Money has more value outside the walls. Of course you should send in money but its more important that the family getting help with the rents and to get help with money so they could travel for visiting the one on the inside.

To work with prison support doesn’t get as much cred as to be an activist on the streets but it is as important unfortunately.

You are still working with prison support from the inside as you were doing on the outside. Can you tell the readers little more about that?

Except from writing letters to other comrades in prison we in Fånggruppen started a newspaper [for] all the antifascists who are in prison right now. The idea with the newspaper is to create a forum for us on the inside to discuss. We are placed in different prisons but through the newspaper we can create a feeling of community. And also the newspaper gives us news that isn’t often published in right-wing media. It can be news about strikes and demonstrations but also interviews and reportages. Last number, we could for an example read about that Ireland plans to take charge for fresh water. We who are behind Fånggruppen are doing interviews with comrades in prison all over the world. What else? Yes, we are about to start some form of campaign for our comrade Jock to collect names for his appeal to get transferred to a prison in Australia. And also we got some thoughts about how we can collect money [for] prison support.

We want to use all the publicity that Free Joel got to enlighten people about prisoners who [have] it a lot worse than me.

Inside of the walls you have a lot of time to think. Has the time in prison and in custody given you something good?

Not much to be honest. But the contact [with] other comrades in prison has given me some perspective and all of a sudden my situation doesn’t seem to be that bad.

Any final words?

Don’t forget the streets. Don’t forget the struggle.
Raybeez (Warzone)

BerlinSXE has released a shirt in order to cover Almgren’s legal costs. For more information about Joel Almgren and the fight against fascists in Sweden, visit the Fånggruppen website. You can also write to Joel at the address below:

Joel Almgren
KVA Tidaholm
Skogsholmvägen
522 85 Tidaholm

This interview has been edited for grammar and clarity.

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