"That'll get me into Greensburg," he announced sarcastically.
The joke earned cautious laughter from the other members of Kansas Mutual Aid, an anarchist collective that organizes anti-war protests, tends community gardens and advocates on behalf of prisoners. The group was about to pull away from the Solidarity Revolutionary Center and Radical Bookstore to spend Memorial Day weekend in central Kansas, removing debris from the EF-5 tornado that chewed through Greensburg and spit out its contents across miles of surrounding fields. The week before Memorial Day, Strano and four others were escorted out of the ravaged city limits and told they'd be arrested if they returned.
Joe Carr, a member, says the group mobilized after the May 4 storm. Unlike countless church groups and individ- ual do-gooders, Kansas Mutual Aid approached the disaster from a political perspective. Its members were concerned about residents' human rights and civil liberties in a newly militarized city. They worried about the location of the prisoners in the county jail. And they predicted an inept state-run cleanup.
On May 12, four KMA members drove to Greensburg to survey the situation. Carr says the relief activities were incoherent, but the heavy police and National Guard presence reminded him of his trip to Fallujah, Iraq. As the four Lawrence residents walked the streets looking for work — one of the women with a shaved head and the men wearing long hair — a squad car from the Johnson County Sheriff's Department followed them.
Soon, they pitched in to help an elderly couple clear soaked furniture from their flooded and mildewed basement. "On our way out, they said, 'Thank you so much. Come back and bring 50 more,'" Carr says.
The next week, they returned to a less friendly reception. They rolled through the police checkpoint and headed to a makeshift government nerve center — a small area surrounding Greensburg's brick courthouse that was packed with police cars from around the state, Federal Emergency Management Agency campers and white trailers that housed the temporary City Hall and municipal services. That's where relief workers were supposed to coordinate with the disaster officials — and it's where the four were confronted by Ty Moeder, an officer with the Olathe Police Department.
KMA members claim that Moeder told them to take their hands out of their pockets and move to a side street to avoid making a scene. Moeder said they were a security threat because of their affiliation with anarchism. With a dozen law-enforcement officials backing him up, he told them that they were not welcome in the city and would be arrested if they came back. After Moeder took pictures of their vehicle, the group was escorted out of Greensburg by five squad cars with lights flashing.
Sgt. Mike Butaud, spokesman for the Olathe Police Department, didn't deny the interaction but declined to comment on the incident. He referred questions to the Kansas Attorney General's Office, saying the OPD was "taking a backseat to the state."