Meet the Purple Heart War Vet with a Socialist U.S. Senate Campaign
photos by Michelle McLoughlin unless otherwise credited
Fred Linck hates fireworks, but on July 4th, 2018, he’s at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, Connecticut for the city’s impressive annual display. Thousands of people fill the school’s sprawling athletic complex, the red cliffs of East Rock Park and its signature 112-foot war memorial towering above the fields.
Fireworks trigger Linck’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yet the 31-year-old former U.S. Marine and Westbrook, Connecticut native, was at the Bridgeport fireworks the previous weekend, and he and his crew of campaign volunteers will be at two other displays over the coming weekend. Linck is collecting signatures to get on the state’s ballot for U.S. Senate as a member of Socialist Action, a national activist group devoted to taking power from the capitalist class and placing it in the hands of workers.
Linck doesn’t look like your average politician. Long hair falls above his bright blue eyes. He has a thick beard, and he’s wearing shorts and sneakers. He’s sweaty — temperatures have clocked 90° today, and Linck and his campaign volunteers have been petitioning since 9:30 this morning, starting at the boisterous Boom Box Parade in Willimantic an hour-plus car ride away. And since Linck, who goes by his middle name Mitchell or “Mitch” among friends, is running as a third party, he needs 7,500 signatures from registered Connecticut voters in order to appear on the ballot this November. His goal is 15,000 signatures, and his deadline is 4 p.m., August 8th.
After getting on the ballot, Linck’s next goal is to debate Democrat Chris Murphy, the state’s first-term junior U.S. Senator seeking reelection.
“It’s not about who supports the party, it’s about who the party supports,” Linck says. “Both the Democrats and the Republicans are the parties of big business and capitalism.”
Trinity Solar, a Northeastern solar energy company with an office in Cheshire, Connecticut, is about an hour’s drive from Enfield, where Linck lives with his girlfriend of four years, Izzie, a surgical resident. Linck works as Project Concierge Team Lead and Resolutions Specialist at Trinity, and he’s also an active member of 350 CT, a Connecticut-based climate justice group. One of his campaign platforms is to convert the U.S. to 100 percent renewable energy as quickly as possible.
Linck has been a member of Socialist Action for two years. He was relatively rightwing when he joined the Marines at the age of 17. It was 2005, and the idea of liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime and democratizing the country resonated with him. That changed a few weeks into his service.
“My unit and I were patrolling through the streets of Fallujah, Iraq,” Linck says. “Some kids, maybe 15 or 16 years old, took a few shots at us from a rooftop and ran off. I was not much older than them, really — just 18. We took cover in a house, and the realization came over me that I had so much more in common with these kids than I did with anyone who had decided we should be at war.”
Thirteen years later, Linck thinks of his time in the service in part as an economic draft.
“I didn’t grow up particularly affluent or well-off,” he says. “I looked at college as an option and thought there was no way I’d be able to pay for it myself. And the military sells, fundamentally, a sense of belonging that I didn’t really feel much in high school. I felt kind of like a loser and an outsider, and this idea of brotherhood and being a part of something forever was very appealing.”
Linck was shot in the head by a sniper a month and a half into his deployment in Fallujah. It was May 5th, 2006, and he had been tasked with running security at the site of a reported improvised explosive device (IED).
“It was a fake,” Linck says. “It was basically put there to draw us there. And then I just remember turning, and opening my eyes, hearing my platoon sergeant yelling, ‘Man down! Man down!’ and thinking, Fuck. Who got hurt? Why am I looking at the sky? Oh, it’s me.”
Linck knew he was concussed. Otherwise he felt okay. Later, he would learn he owed his life to a washer fixed behind his helmet’s night vision goggle clip — the round hit the washer, deflecting most of the bullet up into the helmet. If even the humidity had been different that day, the bullet’s trajectory could have led to a very different outcome.
A medic ran up to him, armed with a cover story to keep Linck calm: The IED had gone off, and Linck caught a small piece of shrapnel. He was going to be fine.
“People don’t get shot in the head and live,” Linck says. “Everyone thought they would take my helmet off and my brains were going to be spilling out and I’m dead.”
The medic began treating Linck. He removed his helmet and wrapped his head in gauze, all the while tapping Linck’s leg and assuring him he was going to be alright.
“I said, ‘Doc, wipe the sweat out of my eyes. It burns.’ He goes, ‘Linck, that’s blood man.’ And that’s when it kind of hit me.”
“I think: I’m dying. I’m in shock and I’m definitely dying.”
In the back of a Humvee headed to Camp Fallujah’s surgical center, Linck’s team leader, Lance Corporal Kelvin Grisales, grabbed his hand.
“Gris, I’m scared,” Linck said.
“Me too, Linck,” Gris said.
“So I’m bleeding profusely from my head,” Linck says. “Everyone’s looking pretty ashen. My team leader’s scared, and I feel okay. I think: I’m dying. I’m in shock and I’m definitely dying.”
But when he got to the surgical center, Linck got up off the Humvee and walked inside. The doctors patched him up. He underwent a series of neurological tests, and it was determined he was fine, more or less. After two days of 800-milligram ibuprofen pills and taking it easy on camp, he was back in the city’s center with his unit.
Linck went on to serve in Iraq for six more months before returning from deployment with his unit. He was 19, and he felt a little immortal. He worked one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer as a Marines Reservist. He was fine, and no one was going to tell him otherwise.
The seriousness of his traumatic brain injury became apparent later that year. After shooting off a few hundred rounds at a rifle range, Linck’s head began to hurt badly. His eyes crossed. He vomited.
He went to see a neurologist. The doctor told him that every time he fired a gun or threw a grenade, Linck was doing more damage to his healing brain. Soon after, Linck started the Marines’ medical separation process. He was placed on a temporary disability retirement list in April of 2009, and five years later, he was completely separated from the service.
Linck introduces himself as an anti-war veteran at the New Haven fireworks. He wants to dismantle the U.S. war machine, slated for $716 billion, or 17 percent, of the federal budget in 2019. He says those funds could pay for universal healthcare with a strong mental health focus, along with free, quality education, childcare, and eldercare. He believes Black Lives Matter, and that killer cops should be jailed. He believes in equal rights for immigrants, and in workers’ rights to organize.
He walks up to one of hundreds of small groups sprawled out across the field and begins his intro. A young girl offers him a bag of potato chips.
“Oh, no thank you,” Linck says with a smile.
“What will you do for Spanish people?” a man asks after Linck ticks through his major platform tenets.
“I would stop all deportations, and I would close all the military camps in South America,” Linck says. He adds that climate change is a huge issue for South American countries, and many people are coming to the U.S. as climate migrants fleeing devastating hurricanes, mudslides, and heavy rains.
“But I don’t believe I can change these things on my own,” Linck continues. “I think all change is movement-based.”
“What about mass shootings?” the man asks.
“I’m actually pro-Second Amendment,” Linck says. “I don’t think we should disarm workers. If we do restrict the firearms industry, it should be at the point of production, not at the point of sale.” He points out that since communities of color have been unjustly over-policed for centuries, universal background checks would only exacerbate racialized arms access.
Per Linck’s platform, workers would collectively own the means of production, large banks and corporations would be publicly owned, and all income over $250,000 would be taxed at 100 percent. In such a world, automation would mean more leisure time instead of the looming threat of unemployment. It would mean more relaxation and more time spent on hobbies, more time with friends and loved ones.
In regards to mass shootings and other violent episodes, Linck sees them as one unfortunate outcome of a very sick society where a few thousand get disgustingly rich off the working class. Per Linck’s platform, workers would collectively own the means of production, large banks and corporations would be publicly owned, and all income over $250,000 would be taxed at 100 percent. In such a world, automation would mean more leisure time instead of the looming threat of unemployment. It would mean more relaxation and more time spent on hobbies, more time with friends and loved ones.
“We’re not providing people with answers, meaning, or purpose,” he says. “I want to end the exploitation of person over person.”
Linck starts packing up as darkness falls. He’s going to try to head out before the fireworks start — he doesn’t sleep much to begin with, and the spike in adrenaline and cortisol from his PTSD will affect the few hours he does get for the next couple days.
“I have to work at 8 a.m. tomorrow,” he says. “Such is the life of a revolutionary Socialist, I suppose.”
Linck has 6,500 signatures at the start of the Puerto Rican Day Parade in Bridgeport, Connecticut on July 8th. He thinks he and his team are on pace to get 2,000 per week. The parade is a prime event to discuss another of his campaign platforms: reparations for African-American, indigenous and colonized communities, and for Puerto Rico.
“Puerto Rico is basically still a colony of the United States,” says Linck. “They call it an independent territory, but Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa — these places are still, in a very real way, colonies. They are entitled to some rights to the American Constitution but not all of them. They can’t vote in Presidential elections. And because of their status as colonies, they have no real decision-making ability about their own economic policy.”
“Not only did Puerto Rico get destroyed by a hurricane that was one of the biggest we’ve ever seen — because of climate change — but they have also been under attacks for years from the PROMESA board (Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act), which institutes terrible austerity measures and tries to get them to pay back debt. We should really cancel all the debt to Puerto Rico. PROMESA even goes so far as to mandate what kind of crops they can and can’t grow. In Puerto Rico, they import most of their food and grow a lot of sugarcane for rum, because America has the ‘right’ to demand what kind of goods Puerto Rico can provide.”
It’s a cool 80° at Seaside Park, a lush crescent moon of green space spanning a few miles of Bridgeport Harbor. Thousands of people have gathered along the city streets and the park’s roadways to watch the parade, and hundreds more are stationed under Seaside’s shade trees to grill, drink, and celebrate.
“And that’s what environmental racism looks like,” Linck says, pointing to a smokestack towering in the distance. It’s the last coal-fired power plant in New England, which is expected to be closed and replaced with a natural gas power plant by 2021. Bridgeport’s population is predominantly black and Hispanic, and alongside the cities of Hartford and New Haven, it has historically clocked some of the highest asthma rates in the state. “We could easily do a community-controlled solar farm there.”
One of the first people Linck approaches is a tall man in a vest emblazoned with “Front Line Auto Club” and a name on the breast: Jody. He introduces himself as Joseph E. Hoskie, a seasoned Republican and a firm believer in the two-party system. His eyes go wide when Linck tells him he’s a Socialist. For the next ten minutes, Linck and Hoskie debate immigration policy. One of Hoskie’s friends works a huge grill made from an old oil tank nearby. The savory smell of countless summer cookouts weaves through the air.
Hoskie says undocumented immigrants waste the country’s resources, and it would be wrong to even date someone who had come to the U.S illegally.
“I turn people in all the time,” Hoskie says. “If you don’t have paperwork, I don’t hire you.” He’s referring to his painting business.
“What’s wrong is paying undocumented people less,” Linck says. “We should let them become contributing members of society.”
“Get out, then come back the right way,” Hoskie says. “Because you broke in.”
Linck offers Hoskie a personal anecdote: A man Linck went to boot camp with came to the U.S. without documentation with his parents at the age of four. He served twice in war zones, came home suffering from PTSD, and got busted for drinking and driving. He was an American war veteran, and he got deported.
“The bottom line is it’s illegal,” Hoskie says.
“I think that’s a travesty,” says Linck.
“It’s a travesty his parents did that.”
Hoskie divulges he’s a self-made millionaire who spent 27 years in prison for triple homicide. While he was serving time in the 1980s, he got his Masters degree and became a certified counselor through a community college program made available to inmates.
“If I was illegal, I would have gotten that for free,” Hoskie says. He pauses for a moment, then peers closely at Linck. “You got something on your face. It’s sunscreen.” Hoskie wipes Linck’s face with his thumb. “There you go.”
Hoskie thanks Linck for his service ss their conversation winds down. He says his father and his uncle served as well.
“I wish I did it for you,” Linck says. “I did it for Halliburton.”
Hoskie walks away for a moment, and a woman pipes up from behind a table.
“Don’t mind him,” she says. “He’s already had two cupcakes. He’s hopped up on sugar.”
Hoskie has a final question for Linck when he returns:
“What is your body designed to protect?”
“Your brain and your heart.”
“Fuck your heart. It’s your brain.”
He signs his name to Linck’s petition.
Linck moves on. Next he runs into John Nuzzi, a friend he served with in Iraq. Nuzzi is at the parade with his wife, Colleen, and their two daughters.
“We have to get together,” Colleen says, giving Linck a hug.
“Yes,” Linck replies with a laugh. “After August.”
Two women walk by and offer Linck a religious pamphlet.
“We’re passing out a word of grace,” one says.
“Thanks,” says Linck, folding the pamphlet into his pocket.
A few hours later, Linck meets a small group of people gathered on a blanket in the shade. He begins outlining his platform. A woman stands up from her chair, and before walking away in a huff, says:
“Your platform sounds great. I wish you all the best. You have a big mountain to climb.”
Linck will be heading 24 miles down the coast to the City of Stamford’s West Side after the parade. There he’ll be joining a picket line outside the Hilton hotel, where the newly unionized employees are asking guests to boycott until they receive a fair contract.
Linck and his volunteers have collected 10,955 signatures as of deadline day. One hour before the 4 p.m. cutoff, his team delivers 2,539 pages of notarized petitions to the Secretary of the State’s office in a brimming laundry basket. Linck estimates a validation rate of 70 to 89 percent, bringing the total count somewhere between 7,640 and 9,714. Plenty for ballot certification.
Once third-party petitions have been returned to their respective cities and towns, Connecticut law requires local clerks to count and validate the signatures within two weeks. However, there is no deadline for the certified petitions to be delivered back to the State for official tabulation — it’s kind of just expected that they’ll be mailed promptly.
On the morning of September 11th, a Tuesday, Linck and his supporters are holding a press conference outside the office of Denise Merrill, Connecticut’s Secretary of the State. Nearly five weeks after the deadline, Linck hasn’t heard if he’s on or off the ballot. The finalized list of candidates is due from Merrill’s office the following Saturday, September 15th, so that municipalities can begin printing their absentee ballots.
“We had comrades run in the 70s and 80s, and it’s relatively common to have to fight for every signature you get,” Linck says. “It’s odd that we submitted more signatures than any other candidate, and that we’re the last to find out.”
Oz Griebel, a wealthy former banker running as an Independent in Connecticut’s gubernatorial race, collected several hundred fewer signatures than Linck and was cleared for ballot access two weeks earlier.
Linck begins the press conference. He’s looking clean-cut: His hair is neatly combed, and he’s wearing a blazer, a tie, and khakis. A dozen or so supporters surround him.
“Seventeen years ago today a monstrous crime was committed,” he says. “How did the ruling institutions in this society respond? The government? The banks? The insurance companies? The media and other big businesses? Did they marshal all available resources to support the survivors and the families of the victims? No, they didn’t. They fanned the fear and anger of the moment. They weaponized it and organized attacks on Muslims in this country, and on civil liberties. And they waged one war after another.”
“We don’t need more wars, surveillance, prisons, deportations, walls, discriminatory laws, or fossil fuel production,” Linck continues. “But still, this is what both major parties give us year after year. The thousands of people who put down their signatures for a working class choice deserve to have their democratic rights honored. We are here to make sure their signatures are counted before the Saturday deadline. Furthermore, we are ready to examine any and all signatures discarded by counters.”
The following day, September 12th, Linck’s campaign team uncovers many inconsistencies among the 6,700-plus verified signatures that had come in to Merrill’s office. New London city clerks had discounted seventy-two signatures for being illegible. In Hartford, 71 voter signatures were thrown out for being unaffiliated, but party affiliation is not a requirement for supporting an independent candidate in gaining ballot access. In New Haven, 25 voters were ruled off as “inactive,” which is only a valid reason for rejection if the voters’ birth dates were missing — not the case with these signatures. The same happened in Bridgeport, and in a sample of 27 signatures rejected as unregistered from Wethersfield, 12 were listed on voter rolls. Along with these errors, Linck’s team find fifty-six petition pages are still unaccounted for. With a four-day cushion for mail delivery on each end of the two-week validation window, all of the petitions should have been sent back to the Secretary of the State by September 1st.
““Nothing happens in this country without a social movement. Do you think the vote mattered in the civil rights movement? No — it was a social movement that forced the hand of the power structure to change.”
“It’s disappointing but not surprising,” Linck says. “We don’t really live in a democracy.”
Linck’s team launches a campaign urging supporters to contact Merrill about the missing petitions, and to request that all Linck’s signatures be reviewed for illegal rejection. After making copies of the necessary petitions at 25 cents a page, they bring them back to the cities of New Haven, Bridgeport, Norwalk, and the town of Wethersfield, where local clerks begin revising their signature counts. Days go by, and still no official word on whether Linck is on or off the ballot.
The certified letter arrives on Saturday, September 30th. This does surprise Linck — municipalities are still calling in with changes to their respective signature counts.
“We hereby advise that petition signed by the number of qualified electors required by §9–453d have not been filed in this office,” the letter reads. “The final date for filing petitions for nomination to an elective office was Wednesday, August 8, 2018. Accordingly, your proposed nomination for the office(s) indicated below in the Tuesday, November 6 2018 State Election is disapproved.”
The letter puts his total number of signatures at 6,761, unamended from the count two weeks earlier.
“This is obviously a sham,” Linck says. “We were not treated with the care and diligence that everybody deserves. A rich and well-connected businessman with big pockets got 90 percent validation. It’s different for working class people.”
Linck has two options: take legal action or launch a write-in campaign. For about $14,000, he could file an injunction requiring his signature counts be completed before Election Day ballots are printed. Socialist Action has the resources to raise the funds, but the real question is if Linck and his chapter have the time and energy to keep up the fight.
They put it to a vote the following week. Between a campaign against police brutality, an upcoming speaking tour with Connecticut’s Green Party, and the national convention of Socialist Action in Minneapolis mid-October, there are too many issues and events ahead of the Connecticut chapter. They choose to embark on a write-in campaign.
Although he didn’t make the ballot or get his chance to debate Senator Murphy, Linck still sees the past several months as a success. Aside from the nearly 11,000 residents who gave their signature, Linck and his team spoke with thousands of people across the political spectrum about critical issues. He and his team popularized Socialist politics. They counterposed the demands of the people against those of the capitalist class. They told workers: You create all the value in our society — you should decide what to do with it.
“We aren’t giving up the fight,” he says. “We’ll make our speeches anywhere people will have us. The work is not done.”
The vote doesn’t mean much to Linck at the end of the day anyway. It’s the people who make change.
“Nothing happens in this country without a social movement,” he says. “Do you think the vote mattered in the civil rights movement? No — it was a social movement that forced the hand of the power structure to change. And that’s the only thing that matters.”
Amanda Bloom has work published or forthcoming in The Atlantic, Architectural Digest, The Rumpus, Storm Cellar, matchbook, The Cardiff Review, Spectral Lines: Poems about Scientists from Alternating Current Press, and elsewhere. She is a fiction editor at the New Haven Review.