Environmental and animal rights activists branded as "Terrorists" in the government's war on dissent
Arguments to be heard in federal court May 15 in unprecedented effort to add up to 20 years at sentencing
Eugene, OR -- As activists and others demonstrate their support tomorrow outside federal court in Eugene, Oregon, with a noon press conference, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) will seek "terrorism enhancements" to add up to 20 years to the prison sentences of ten young environmental and animal rights activists. Tomorrow's hearing in the "Operation Backfire" cases comes as an embattled DoJ, with little to show from its so-called "war on terror," attempts to blur the line between acts of property damage and those crimes designed to inflict serious injury or death. This marks the first time in U.S. history the federal government has sought to apply the "terrorism enhancement" to property crimes that did not result in injury or death to humans. All of the acts of property damage, for which the ten are claiming responsibility, were specifically designed to avoid harm or injury to living beings.
The ten defendants have all accepted plea bargains, some of which include a refusal to implicate others in the government's continuing prosecution. Sentencing for the defendants will occur at the federal courthouse in Eugene from May 22 to June 5. However, the government will first argue on May 15 that Section 3A1.4 of the federal sentencing guidelines, which concerns federal acts of terrorism, applies in these cases. Although crimes of arson typically bring sentences of 5-8 years, the government's requested enhancements may result in more than 30-year sentences in some cases. Activists' targets included a horse slaughterhouse, a ski development that threatened endangered species, GMO tree-plantations, and corporate logging property.
Activists argue that passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001 and expansion of the government's "war on terror" have resulted in a broad-based suppression of dissent. "The grand jury is one of the government's most important and widely used tools in its attack on political dissidents," said Samantha Levens of the Grand Jury Resistance Project (GJRP). "At the heart of the Green Scare cases, is a grand jury that was used to gather evidence to then prosecute committed activists in a highly sensationalized manner." With the imminent sentencing of the Eugene defendants, attention should also be drawn to the myriad of other politically motivated cases resulting from grand juries. The thread tying all of them together is opposition to U.S. policies at home and abroad.
Examples of the abusive use of grand juries include cases from around the country and span several movements for social change. A grand jury was used to indefinitely incarcerate Dr. Sami Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor and Palestinian activist, despite the government's failure to convict him on terrorism charges. In March 2006, a plea agreement was arranged for Al-Arian's deportation. Although the agreement included a non-cooperation clause, the government successfully jailed Al-Arian for contempt for refusing to testify before a Virginia federal grand jury.
Eight former members of the Black Panther Party (BPP) are currently in jail on $3 million bail each, for a case that involves the death of a San Francisco police officer in 1971. Because torture was used to coerce "confessions" from some of the defendants, the case was dropped in 1975. Then, in 2005, five former members of the BPP were subpoenaed to a grand jury and jailed for contempt after refusing to testify. Despite this resistance, or perhaps because of it, indictments were filed against the eight defendants now being prosecuted by the office of San Francisco D.A. Kamala Harris.
In April 2007, after using a grand jury to jail independent journalist Josh Wolf for contempt, the federal government forced the disclosure of his unpublished video footage taken at a July 2005 anarchist demonstration against the G8. Information compiled by the GJRP, a coalition that provides education on politically motivated attacks by government and support to people targeted by such attacks, shows that dozens of activists have recently been either subpoenaed by a grand jury or indicted in Atlanta, Denver, Eugene, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, Tampa, Trenton, and Alexandria. At least fourteen people have refused to testify before these grand juries, and many were jailed for contempt.