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Occupy Denver profile: Aaron "Al" Nesby sacrifices his anonymity for the occupation

On Friday afternoon, the day before Occupy Denver's most violent evening to date, Aaron "Al" Nesby worried he might be arrested. The chances were good, he admits, so he warned a friend to look out for him and check the media for his name on an arrest list. As fate would have it, that friend, John Sexton, was also arrested. Two days later, the irony is marked on Nesby's wrist: His yellow jail bracelet is still attached.

Saturday was a chaotic one for both men, but Nesby's day changed the moment he saw his friend on the ground. Sexton, who was later arrested for felony assault, lay sprawled under a police officer with his face to the grass. "My friend was screaming for his life, and I wasn't prepared for that," Nesby says. "I was pepper-sprayed while I yelled at police, 'Why are you doing this?' My eyes were burning, but it didn't hurt as much as seeing my friend on the ground."

Al Nesby reacts to pepper spray during Saturday's Occupy Denver demonstration.
Al Nesby reacts to pepper spray during Saturday's Occupy Denver demonstration.
Courtesy of Tanner Spendley

Hours later, Nesby would make his own trip in a cop car, after he resigned himself to protect the kitchen tent once Sexton was taken away. The 32-year-old, who has been a member of the occupation since its third day, sat linked to other protesters in front of the Thunderdome when police came to remove the group's newly established tents.

"They remembered the laws of physics better than me," Nesby says. "I failed to realize that when you're two feet tall, essentially forming a two-foot-tall bridge, it's easy to be stepped over. The last thing I saw to grab was a riot SWAT member's leg."

So he did. It was in this moment, and throughout the arrest that followed, that Nesby's path in the occupation changed. Two weeks ago, Nesby refused to provide Westword his full name to maintain his anonymity. Today, his name and photo are splashed across the Internet, and he has grown resigned to the implications of a long-term future with Occupy Denver.

Protester Pat Marsden comforts Nesby during Saturday's demonstration.
Protester Pat Marsden comforts Nesby during Saturday's demonstration.
Courtesy of Tanner Spendley

Nesby's family history is one of consistent and impressive political activism. His grandfather was a Tuskegee airman, and his father later became the first black Top Gun instructor. Nesby himself attended the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas for three months before he began to "feel like I was being programmed," he says. "I've always been much better at the reverse-programming thing myself."

In a different Denver world, that of electronic music, Nesby is better knows as A23P, his creative name, or as the president of Acid All Stars Recordings, a collective dedicated to electronica with an underlying acid sound. "Music is nothing but math," Nesby says. "First, I figure out the formula, and then I figure out a way to break it. And I mean break it, not break it down."

To support his musical life, Nesby has developed the computer programming skills he picked up at age eight in a long series of IT jobs: webmaster for a furniture company, lead IT expert for West Palm Beach's Obama campaign, a reverse hacker for IBM. Today he combines both his job training and his political motivation into a dedicated interest in Anonymous, the Internet collective, though he hesitates to say how deep his loyalty runs.

"I'm not Anonymous because you know my name is Al," he says, though technically that's his middle name. But "regardless of what my involvement may or may not be, I'm no longer anonymous, so anything I tell you about my role from here on out might be lying to you."

At this, he laughs. "All that really matters is that I'm American," he says. "It's time to be American, isn't it? Isn't that what we're all doing at the occupation?"

More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: Did unnamed 2nd assaulter knock over cop on motorcycle? (VIDEO)."


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