Philadelphia, PA – Federal inmate in the Bureau of Prisons, Khalif Miller, says his rights are being violated while in prison awaiting trial on federal arson charges from the 2020 anti-police uprisings. Miller said he hadn’t had an attorney visit for his first 19 months incarcerated, that he was stabbed 10 times and almost killed in an attack, and has caught COVID-19 twice in prison while awaiting trial as part of a what he says was political targeting by former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain.
Miller was arrested on October 28, 2020, and charged along with three others, Carlos Matchett of Atlantic City and Anthony Smith, a prominent activist, for allegedly throwing flaming materials into a police car near Philadelphia’s City Hall on May 30, 2020, during the George Floyd Uprising.
Miller has dubbed them the “Philadelphia Three” and the federal government say they conspired together to burn the cop car. Yet, Miller said he’s never even “met nor spoken” to the other co-defendants of the alleged conspiracy and said he was simply taking a picture from atop the police car when it was set aflame.
“The same photo that should’ve set me free, the federal government used to create an elaborate plot in which I have become a political prisoner that I’ve termed the “PHILADELPHIA THREE”, because there are two other people that I’ve never met nor spoken with who the federal government has roped together and charged us with arson and conspiracy all in their endless effort to dismantle and alter the progress of the “BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT.”Khalif Miller
Miller wrote to Unicorn Riot from his prison cell and called for support by sharing his story, writing him, and donating for legal support (full letter below with address). Miller is one of over 300 people across the United States who were federally charged during the height of the anti-police and anti-racist uprising of mid 2020. (This wave of prosecutions contradicts claims by supporters of January 6 riot defendants, who often falsely claim the government has declined to serious prosecute nearly anyone for rioting in 2020.)
Miller, a father and business owner, was only 25 years old when he was arrested.
The Philadelphia Three were indicted (pdf) on October 20, 2020, after a grand jury charged them with obstruction of law enforcement during a civil disorder and two counts of arson. If convicted, they face a mandatory minimum of seven years in prison with a maximum of 65 years, with three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $750,000.
Guilty Plea, Arson Charges Dropped, and Sentencing for Woman Who Set Police Cars on Fire
After the massive uprisings against anti-Blackness and police terror across the country in 2020, dozens of cities were left with millions of dollars in property damage. The federal government then levied arson charges and a rare 1960s vintage civil disorder charge in attempts to punish protesters with long federal prison sentences. For more on the recent use of civil disorder charges, see our 2020 report on an Illinois man charged with civil disorder by the feds for participating in the uprising in Minneapolis.
In Philadelphia, there were several other high-profile arson cases from activity on May 30, 2020. Directly related to the Philadelphia Three was the case of Lore Elisabeth Blumenthal, a 32-year-old white massage therapist. Wearing a bandana over her face along with goggles, Blumenthal was seen in photographs throwing flaming material toward a police car. Authorities traced the t-shirt she was wearing to an Etsy review and arrested Blumenthal within days.
In March 2022, Blumenthal pled guilty to two counts of interfering with law enforcement officers during a civil disorder in connection with what the feds state was “arson of two” police vehicles, the same vehicles the Philadelphia Three are charged for. Her arson charges were dropped in the plea deal. She was subsequently sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
In a key photograph, Miller is visible in the background standing on the police car, while Blumenthal is the right foreground with the flaming material in her hand. Miller is being charged with arson for the vehicles, yet, he maintains his innocence:
“As the protest started to take a turn, I was taking photos when suddenly mid-photo chaos erupted and the car that I was standing on (a government official vehicle) erupted into flames as it was firebombed. Eventually every vehicle in the area received the same fate.”Khalif Miller letter to Unicorn Riot
Aside from police vehicles lit aflame near City Hall, another police vehicle near an Interstate exit was set on fire. Last month, 25-year-old Ayoub Tabri was sentenced to one day less than a year, 364 days, for throwing a road flare into that vehicle. The favorable sentencing allowed Tabri to not be deported or be given a prison sentence.
As for the other two co-defendants of Miller’s, activity has been frequent in their cases. Anthony Smith, was bailed from custody in early November 2020 and has been on house arrest awaiting his trial which is scheduled for October 31, 2022.
Recent court filings indicate that the third of the Philadelphia Three, Carlos Matchett, who had already been federally charged with using social media to incite riots, pleaded guilty to those charges in late July 2022. Matchett still awaits trial for the arson charges and court filings on August 3, 2022, show that he was given a new federal charge of traveling to incite riots.
The Lawfare blog analyzed how federal prosecutors targeted defendants like Matchett after the uprising using 18 U.S.C. § 2101, under the authority of the U.S. Constitution’s “Commerce Clause.” Eric Halliday for Lawfare wrote “many of the relevant charging documents cite the broader interstate commerce disruptions of the protests themselves, not the actions of the individual defendants.”
The charge sheet prepared for the Philadelphia Three by McSwain notes the Philadelphia PD “an institution and organization receiving Federal financial assistance” and “of a vehicle, that is, Philadelphia Police Department Car C-109, used in interstate and foreign commerce and in activity affecting interstate and foreign commerce, and other personal property used in interstate and foreign commerce and in activity affecting interstate and foreign commerce.” The sheet did not specify how Car C-109 was used in “interstate and foreign commerce,” however.
Miller has recently acquired a new attorney, according to court filings. He’s also filed a complaint (pdf) for violation of civil rights against the correctional officers working during the time he was viciously attacked in his cell and stabbed in August 2021. The side effects from the extensive injuries that Miller said “received no medical attention” are noted as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, blurred vision/loss of vision, increased anxiety, night terrors/trouble sleeping, and “constant, persistent migraines.”
U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain Swan-Dives in Political Race
Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, William (Bill) McSwain, appointed by President Donald Trump, was the prosecuting federal attorney during the time of the uprising and the high-profile police killing of Walter Wallace Jr. His office filed many charges against protesters. In 2020 McSwain also intervened to prevent safe injection sites from entering operations in Philadelphia, warning of a “street fight,” despite the severity of the opioid crisis.
McSwain often took to Twitter with dozens of posts during the summer of 2020 promising to be “tough on crime” with stiff penalties. In one post, referencing Blumenthal’s charges, he tweeted “If you torch police cars, the feds will find you and put you in jail – and you will stay there.” Yet, defendants posting bail and somewhat lenient sentencings contradicted McSwain’s statements.
Miller said that while McSwain denied the arrests of the Philadelphia Three “was politically motivated … [it was] one of his main selling points in his political race for Governor.”
McSwain resigned from the Department of Justice in January 2021 and ran for Governor of Pennsylvania on the Republican ticket; he was called “a coward, who let our country down” by Donald Trump for not stopping what he falsely deemed was widespread election fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Landing in third place, McSwain earned 15% of the primary vote in May 2022, losing to controversial nominee State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-SD33), who was present during the January 6 riot in Washington, D.C., and has espoused Christian nationalist ideology.
The underlying racist overtones present in the political system are what Miller blames as the reason why he languishes in prison and compared his case to how those charged from January 6, where mostly white “demonstrators initiated a plot to take over the Capitol and attempted to overthrow the government” and “were allowed bail, while others have been sentenced and received substantially less time than what the BLM [Black Lives Matter] protesters even faced.”
Khalif Miller’s “Letter of Injustice,” Written in Federal Prison (PDF)
LETTER OF INJUSTICE:
WHO ARE THE PHILADELPHIA THREE
By Khalif Miller
In May 2020, l took to the streets of Philadelphia, as many across the world did, chanting “Black Lives Matter”. A movement that multiplied after the untimely demise of George Floyd. During these assemblies, I spoke with many low level officers as well as ranking officers about our side of the story. How our community is fearful of calling the police, even when their help is necessary but because of their reputation we don’t want to be the cause of unnecessary bloodshed to a member of our community. I spoke with well over 100 hundred officers through these assemblies and if I was able to get through to even one of them and saved one life my goal was achieved. As the protest started to take a turn, I was taking photos when suddenly mid-photo chaos erupted and the car that I was standing on (a government official vehicle) erupted into flames as it was firebombed. Eventually every vehicle in the area received the same fate.
The same photo that should’ve set me free, the federal government used to create an elaborate plot in which I have become a political prisoner that I’ve termed the “PHILADELPHIA THREE”, because there are two other people that I’ve never met nor spoken with who the federal government has roped together and charged us with arson and conspiracy all in their endless effort to dismantle and alter the progress of the “BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT”.
My name is Khalif Miler, and I am part of the Philadelphia Three. I have been targeted by the United States Government as a means of political suppression for rising out in my supporting acts in the Black Lives Matter Movement. For the past 19-months I have been incarcerated wrongly in violation of my 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendment Constitutional Rights in horrid conditions disguised as Covid-19 protocols. At times I’ve been confined in my cell for 24-hours a day, for months at a time; denied showers, proper hygiene essentials, adequate nutrition and access to the outside world. Because of my youth, my impoverished economical status, and the color of my skin I anguish in prison while my story goes untold and unnoticed while my captors are held unaccountable. How much different am I to Kyle Rittenhouse?
The person placed in power to uphold the agenda of the United States Government; United States Attorney General at the time Bill McSwain, has denied that our arrest was politically motivated, yet it’s one of his main selling points in his political race for Governor. While the world cried out and came together begging for change he used his powers to criminalize and quell dissent expressed by progressive political movement. As a consequence for going against the “NORM” the United States Government are burying me behind a wall of injustice under; INHUMAN CONDITIONS, AGAINST MY CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS, in the mist of a PANDEMIC (I’ve contracted Covid-19 twice since being here), without Competent Counsel (I haven’t even had one Attorney Visit yet, in 19-months), and through LIFE and DEATH experiences (I was recently stabbed over ten times while incarcerated). I have become the enemy of the United States. See United States of America v. Khalif Miller.
On the other side of justice, the insurrectionist who invaded the CAPITOL; most who were WHITE were allowed bail, while others have been sentenced and received substantially less time than what the BLM protesters even faced. These demonstrators initiated a plot to take over the CAPITOL and attempted to overthrow the government. Once again we are shown the racial injustice of OUR society. This is the reason why the Black Lives Matter Movement exist. As Dr. King once said, “INJUSTICE ANYWHERE IS A THREAT TO JUSTICE EVERYWHERE”. Injustice continues to plague OUR society. WE MUST LIFT OUR NATIONAL POLICY FROM THE QUICKSAND OF RACIAL INJUSTICE TO THE SOLID ROCK OF HUMAN DIGNITY.
Today, I am asking that YOU STAND WITH ME to expose injustice and all the tension its exposure creates to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion so we can lift the dark clouds of racial prejudice from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of LOVE & BROTHERHOOD will shine over OUR GREAT NATION.
PLEASE SHOW YOUR SUPPORT by sharing my story, reaching out to me, and donating whatever you can (for proper legal support and representation).
P.O. Box 562
Philadelphia, Pa 19105
(Please do not send cash, only letters of love and support)
GoFund Me: Gofund.me/5414cf91
Cover image by Niko Georgiades, images sourced from social media, court docs, and Khalif Miller.