06/13/19 -- Obituary: Cornell Banks

June 13, 2019

Dr. Cornell Banks, general practitioner at Elmhurst Hospital and famed resistance fighter, passed away on the morning of June 13th after a battle with lung cancer stemming from exposure to negation gas during the Second American Civil War. Banks' accomplishments are not merely as a doctor, but as a resistance fighter and activist.

On June 11th 2016, Brooklyn College was honored with the presence and words of Dr. Cornell Banks, a “core” member of a group of very close friends that later became known as “The Black Cat” resistance group during the Second American Civil War. In the past two years there has been a revival in the attention given to “The Black Cat,” which promoted the resistance to anti-evolved ideology during Nathan Petrelli and later Andrew Mitchell's regimes. According to Dr. Banks, much of the published accounts regarding “The Black Cat” contain inaccuracies, in some cases being entirely incorrect. It is for this reason that Dr. Banks has made it a goal for the remainder of his life to contribute whatever he can to aid in setting the record straight.

An exhibit on "Pro Evolved" resistance in America at the Brooklyn College sponsored by the Deveaux Society at which Dr. Banks was invited to speak was an example of insufficient historical research. Before the exhibit was opened to the public, he was given a chance to see it for himself. To his dismay, pictures of his friends in “The Black Cat” had been mislabeled and the only successful military operation against Mitchell was not even mentioned. At the last minute, Dr Banks changed his original speech to address these inaccuracies. A reporter from the New York Times approached him that day after his revised speech who remarked, “once a rebel, always a rebel.”

Dr. Banks stressed the fact that in most democratic societies today it is impossible for people to even begin to comprehend the oppressive nature of America's total dictatorship, which makes it difficult to explain, except to those who have lived it. The Mitchell regime was extremely efficient in establishing itself as the new government and within days of the revelation that Nathan Petrelli had been (presumably) killed years ago and replaced by the serial killer Sylar. Anti-Evolved extremists had already taken control of nearly all aspect of everyday life under Petrelli, smoothing out Mitchell's transition. Every city block had an informer who reported any “suspicious” activity to the Department of Homeland Security. Communication was monitored to such an extent that in one case, Dr Banks recalled, while sitting in a cafe reading the news, a man was arrested by DHS within moments of making a phone call.

Under these conditions, any form of resistance was extremely dangerous and finding allies without already being a part of secret networks like the Ferrymen was impossible for all practical purposes. Without open communication resistance groups had no way of knowing if other groups even existed. It was not until after the civil war that Dr. Banks discovered that approximately one hundred other groups of dramatically varying sizes had been operating in America at the time. To add to the difficulty of mobilizing an opposition against a total dictatorship, the majority of the American people had been indoctrinated with Anti-Evolved propaganda. This full media saturation was supported by campaigns of fear and terror designed to generate common public sentiment against the Evolved. What must be noted though, is that it was not until near the war’s end that the truth of the atrocities being committed by the US government was widely known. Instead, the American public was presented with lies and false hope in the form of endless propaganda.

The friends of “The Black Cat” were middle-class students with parents who shared their pro-evolved sentiment. They had access to the “truth,” as Dr. Banks explained, in the form of radio broadcasts and literature from operatives in defunct groups like Phoenix and active organizations like the Ferrymen. Since all communication in America was carefully monitored and watchful eyes of the Mitchell regime were everywhere resistance groups relied on “underground” sources of information.

In 2010, the year he considers the true beginning of “The Black Cat,” Dr. Banks met Darnell North while at Columbia University. In their dorm the two 21-year-olds discussed resistance as well as common academic interests and became close friends. One of the few accounts that Dr. Banks acknowledged as correctly stated throughout all books that reference “The Black Cat,” was this quote by North: “Maybe ten years from now there will be a plaque on this dorm room which will read: ‘This is where the revolution began’.”

In 2011 two men met fellow students Christina and Heather Schaffer. Dean Winston, a student and father of two joined later and became Dr. Banks’s closest friend. This “tightly knit” group of friends was for the most part apolitical medical students, discussing more academic issues such as philosophy and art. After the war, in an effort to memorialize her siblings, Inge Schaffer, the elder sister of Christina and Heather, wrote mostly about them in her book entitled “The Black Cat”. As the group of friends became more aware of the horrific deeds of the US government, they realized the need for action. The only method possible given their means was by whisper campaigns and internet activism, the latter of which was incredibly dangerous given government surveillance but also likely to have the most impact. It was Christina Schaffer who first proposed the use of steganographic encryption to hide their communications from government surveillance. While the practice wasn't uncommon, it also wasn't new and involved time consuming graphic editing and encryption processes.

Starting in July of 2011 they opened a (now defunct) Flickr account with New York photography called "The Cat & the Canary" which featured landscape shots of New York and, steganographically hidden in the images, information about local safe houses, government informants, and any other information they could offer to subvert the US government. They also included quotes from many famous philosophers added atop the images as part of the decryption process. “The Black Cat” used puzzles and wordplay in the quotes to help encode the passwords to their steganographic encryption, allowing other intellectually-minded people a chance to recognize the images for what they were and receive the hidden information.

After a philosophy professor missed two lectures with no explanation in the summer of 2011, Banks and a painter friend led about fifty fellow students to the university President’s office to demand the whereabouts of the teacher. The President denied any knowledge and Dr. Banks and his friend then led the group of students on a “sympathy demonstration” through the streets of Manhattan to the professor’s apartment. Such an open protest (in broad daylight) was growing by the day. The student unrest was reaching a fever pitch.

In August of 2011 Banks would travel to Ontario, Canada to visit a friend at the University of Toronto. It was here that he would first meet Ferrymen smuggler Joanne Dair. Banks and Dair had frequent interaction with the Canadian people and came to realize that they were genuinely good-natured, despite America’s then-current propaganda describing them as unreliable and untrustworthy due to their acceptance of evolved refugees. Dair likewise revealed to Banks some of the more barbaric atrocities being committed on American soil by the likes of the notorious Colonel Leon Heller. Upon his return from Canada, Banks felt that the passive, philosophical approach was not enough and pushed for more active resistance. By November of 2011 "The Black Cat's" messages shifted to a more aggressive footing and promoted violence against Registration centers and other government offices. The group now realized that in order to save the soul of their country, they would be forced to fight for it.

After November 8th, 2011 as more students became aware of the true intentions of the government's plan for the evolved population, the resentment increased. At Columbia University on February 8th, 2012 one such event sparked a total riot. Mayor Sylvia Lockheart delivered a speech calling for the expulsion of evolved students for the "protection" of non-evolved students and the NYPD present at the speech began moving into the crowd forcibly checking Registration cards and pulling evolved students out. The students immediately revolved, including Banks and the members of "The Black Cat" and in the aftermath of the riot 12 students were dead and dozens more arrested including Banks' closest friend Dean Winston. Due to arrests at the riot, word about "The Black Cat" finally made it to law enforcement. In the following months all but one suspected of being associated with “The Black Cat” were arrested.

During his arrest, a draft "Cat & Canary" post written by Christina Schaffer was found in Darnell North's pocket, which he tried in vain to tear up and swallow. North was promptly arrested along with the Schaeffer sisters. The vehicle they were being transported in diverted from its course to a vacant construction lot in Harlem. Darnell North along with Christina and Heather Schaeffer were immediately executed. Dean Winston was arrested in April of the same year and executed in his home.

Having been warned that Homeland Security was once again tracking him Dr. Banks reached out to Joanne Dair and requested transport to Canada. Dair connected with Banks and the two made the journey north to Rochester and then over the border into Canada. It was there that Dr. Banks moved into a more militarized position, joining up with what would become American resistance fighters. Banks would work with Ferrymen operatives moving back and forth into Rochester, serving as a field medic and lookout as they robbed National Guard armories and police stations and conducted violent reprisal attacks. Banks was tasked with collecting weapons and had them transported to his operation cell in Canada as well as providing whatever medical aid possible with their limited resources. With the help of a like-minded ex-marine and his unit, this group overtook the 90.1 FM WGMC radio station in Rochester and began broadcasting anti-Mitchell communications. It is here that Banks remained for the remainder of the war, serving as a communications officer and emergency medic in the Resistance.

Banks' death closes the chapter on "the Black Cats" and leaves only his stories and the impact of his actions behind. Dr. Cornell Banks was 30 years old.

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