[Ppnews] Auburn - Conspiracy of dunces

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Aug 2 12:00:45 EDT 2006

Conspiracy of dunces

Three would-be eco-terrorists were arrested in 
Auburn last January for plotting acts of sabotage 
for the Earth Liberation Front. But would there 
have been a conspiracy without the prodding of FBI infiltrator Anna?

<http://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/Archive?author=oid%3A2626>Cosmo Garvin


The arrest of three alleged eco-terrorists on 
January 13 was thanks to the work of a mysterious 
FBI informant who went by the name of Anna.
Illustration By Gia-Bao Tran
On the morning of January 13, the FBI was keeping 
a close eye on a cabin in Dutch Flat, about a 
half-hour north of Auburn. The government had the 
cabin and its four occupants--two men and two 
women--under 24-hour surveillance for nearly a 
week because the group was suspected of plotting 
acts of domestic terrorism in the name of the Earth Liberation Front.
The four left the cabin at around 10 a.m. in a 
1997 maroon Chevy Lumina and traveled about 30 
miles to a Kmart in Auburn. There were agents 
inside the store, watching them shop.

Agents outside watched the parking lot, too, as 
one of the men, 28-year-old Eric McDavid--tall 
and athletic, who wore his red hair short under a 
baseball cap--returned to the car with his 
companion, Anna, a pretty, dark-haired woman in 
her mid-20s. Inside, 20-year-old Lauren Weiner 
and 20-year-old Zachary Jenson continued to shop, 
stopping a clerk to inquire about Pyrex cookware. 
All the while, agents watched and waited.

Once all four reassembled in the parking lot, 
carrying bags full of household cleaning supplies 
and a Pyrex bowl--bomb-making materials, 
according to the government--members of the FBI, 
the SWAT team and the Joint Terrorism Task Force moved in.
It wasn’t a violent takedown.

Three from the group were quietly handcuffed and 
loaded into patrol cars. Their shopping bags were 
inspected, quickly inventoried and loaded into 
the trunk of another. All but Anna were taken to 
the Sacramento County Jail and then charged with 
conspiracy to commit arson. The government 
alleged that the conspiracy was part of a planned 
terrorist bombing campaign targeting power 
stations in San Francisco, a forest-genetics 
research lab in Placerville and even the Nimbus Dam.
The three never saw Anna again. She had 
befriended them, brought them together, paid the 
rent on the Dutch Flat cabin and encouraged them 
every step of the way. She had been an FBI informant all along.

According to a report from FBI agents, Jenson 
muttered, “Friday the 13th, what a day,” from the 
back of the squad car as they drove away to jail.

The green scare

The arrest of the three would-be eco-terrorists 
was part of a larger crackdown on what the 
government considers one of the most fearsome 
domestic terrorist organizations in the United 
States: the Earth Liberation Front.

That same month, with great fanfare, the FBI and 
the U.S. Department of Justice announced the 
arrests of 17 alleged members of ELF, charged 
with 65 counts of arson and conspiracy. That 
investigation was called Operation Backfire.

But critics, like the National Lawyers Guild, 
call Operation Backfire and other investigations 
and arrests of eco-radicals the “green scare” and 
a misuse of resources to fight terrorism.

“The indictment tells a story of four-and-a-half 
years of arson, vandalism, violence and 
destruction claimed to have been executed on 
behalf of the Animal Liberation Front and the 
Earth Liberation Front--extremist movements known 
to support acts of domestic terrorism,” said 
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at the press 
conference announcing the results of Operation 
Backfire, on January 20, just a week after the 
arrests of Weiner, McDavid and Jenson.

“Investigating and preventing animal-rights and 
environmental extremism is one of the FBI’s 
highest domestic-terrorism priorities,” said FBI 
Director Robert Mueller at the same press conference.

That quote was widely reprinted in newspapers all 
over the country. Here’s another, which didn’t 
make it into most media accounts: “The FBI 
becomes involved, as it did in this case, only 
when volatile talk crosses the line into violence 
and criminal activity,” Mueller also said.

Keep that in mind as you read further. The 
government says that its confidential source, 
Anna, foiled the plot cooked up by McDavid, 
Jenson and Weiner. But court documents suggest 
that it took a lot of care and feeding, 
encouragement and money from the FBI informant, 
Anna, to get this particular conspiracy to hatch.

In May, Weiner agreed to plead guilty. She faces 
a maximum of five years in prison and is free on 
bail, living with her family in New York.

Last week, after more than six months in the 
Sacramento County Jail, Jenson also agreed to a 
plea bargain, and to testify against McDavid. 
He’s been released on bail and is scheduled to be sentenced in early October.

That leaves McDavid left to stand trial. He’s the 
oldest, and the one prosecutors say was the real 
leader behind the plot. He was also the one who 
was closest to Anna, the FBI informant who stuck 
with McDavid for a year-and-a-half, asking him 
questions, making suggestions and acting as if 
she were his lieutenant while reporting on his 
every move to the FBI. According to testimony 
from Sacramento-based FBI Special Agent Nasson 
Walker, she got paid at least $75,000 for her work.

The defendants’ lawyers say that there could have 
been no conspiracy at all without Anna. Documents 
from the investigation reviewed by SN&R suggest 
that Anna provided much of the financial support, 
the encouragement and the know-how needed to turn 
their talk into action. They also show that 
whenever the group started to lose focus, or to 
have second thoughts, Anna badgered them about 
being all talk and not sticking to an action plan.

“She was the glue,” said defense attorney Mark 
Reichel, who represents McDavid. “Take away Anna, 
and they would have scattered in the wind like so many tumbleweeds.”

Anna the anarchist

ELF, and its sister group, ALF, the Animal 
Liberation Front, has been a tough organization 
for the FBI to crack--mostly because, as U.S. 
Attorney Steven Lapham notes, “it’s not an organization.”

It’s not an organization in the sense that a 
criminal gang, or the Mafia, or a group like Al 
Qaeda is an organization. Federal law enforcement 
works against these groups in large part by 
arresting the foot soldiers and prying 
information out of them about the higher-ups. 
With perseverance, and enough underlings flipping 
on their bosses, you’ve got a shot at decapitating the organization.

Not so with ELF. These folks are, after all, 
anarchists who believe in an anti-authoritarian 
way of organizing society. Nobody pays membership 
dues; there are no bosses or foot soldiers. They 
carry out their actions, from simple tagging and 
vandalism to firebombings causing millions of 
dollars’ worth of damage, under the banner of 
ELF. They have been credited with $110 million in 
property damage to date, from car dealerships to 
ski resorts since 1997. Though the government 
considers ELF one of the most important domestic 
terror groups in the nation, if not the most 
important, so far, nobody has died as a result of an ELF action.

Lapham prosecuted the ELF firebombing of a UC 
Davis veterinary clinic in 1987. He also 
prosecuted the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, in 1998 
and members of the San Joaquin County Militia for 
conspiring to blow up two large propane tanks in 
Elk Grove--in order to start the second American 
Revolution--in 2002. And he’s the lead prosecutor 
against McDavid, Weiner and Jenson.


Anna pushed the others constantly to stick to the 
plan. She told them she liked the idea of taking out the Nimbus Dam.
Illustration By Gia-Bao Tran
He claims ELF is a serious threat. “These people 
are committed to a cause, a cause that has as its 
tenets property destruction and violence.”
Cracking ELF requires a special approach. And 
that’s where someone like Anna comes in.

In an affidavit filed in the case, FBI Special 
Agent Walker said that the “confidential source” 
(the government never refers to Anna by name; 
it’s always the “source”) had been used in at 
least 12 prior investigations of anarchists and 
anarchist groups. “Her information has proved 
accurate and reliable,” Walker said, and she was 
“granted authority to participate in Tier 1 
Otherwise Illegal Activity” as part of the 
investigation. Tier 1 means investigations of the 
most dangerous criminals: terrorists. OIA means 
just that. Anna was allowed to break the law in order to get her collar.

McDavid first encountered Anna in Iowa in 2004, 
at an anarchist convention called CrimethInc. He 
was already friends with Jenson, who also went to Iowa that time.
“She showed up with this pink hair and camo 
miniskirt. I guess she was pretty cute,” said Reichel.

According to Reichel, Anna and McDavid never 
slept together, but there was romantic tension 
between the two over the next year-and-a-half. 
“They argued like a couple. Everyone around them 
assumed they were sleeping together. She definitely had my boy after her.”

The two would see each other again about a year 
after the Iowa convention. In the meantime, it 
seems, Anna had work to do in southern Florida.

According to accounts of organizers of a protest 
against the Organization of American States in 
June 2005, Anna showed up in the Miami area, 
posing as an activist and volunteer medic.

Miami organizer Ray Del Papa said he believes the 
FBI was monitoring organizers of the 
demonstrations, even though they were legal, 
permitted and not intended to include any civil 
disobedience or “direct action.”

“I was on the phone one day, complaining to 
someone that we only had one volunteer medic,” Del Papa explained.

“I think the phones were tapped, because the next 
day, this woman Anna shows up, with short blond 
hair, in these leather pants, with a medic bag.”

But Del Papa said Anna didn’t seem very 
interested in offering medical care and comfort 
to protesters. She was more curious about the protest organizers.

“She started asking all of these really specific 
questions about who was coming and how many 
people were coming. She got really aggressive 
about wanting detailed information about our plans.”

During the march, Del Papa said, Anna started 
recruiting high-school students to stage a sit-in 
to block traffic, right in front of a large group 
of Broward County sheriff’s officers in riot 
gear. Del Papa was sure the provocation would 
lead to arrests and to the police clearing 
protesters from the area around the Fort 
Lauderdale Convention Center where the protest 
was being held. “It was a trap,” Del Papa told 
SN&R. That’s when Del Papa was sure that Anna was 
a government agent. Not that it’s uncommon for 
political demonstrations and meetings to have an 
undercover agent or two in their midst.

“What bothers me is that they’ve gone from being 
information gatherers to being provocateurs. To 
provoking people into these actions.”

Mark Reichel went to Miami to check it out. He 
brought a photo of the Miami Anna, taken by 
organizers there, back to his client in the 
Sacramento jail. It was the same Anna, McDavid told him.

Reeling them in

In late June, Anna left Miami and headed for 
Philadelphia and the BIO 2005 conference, where 
many activist groups, including some anarchists, 
were gathering to protest the biotech industry.

Anna’s real contact with McDavid, Weiner and 
Jenson started with meetings in a Philadelphia 
coffee shop. It was there that McDavid told Anna 
of his interest in “direct action.” It was there 
also that McDavid first mentioned the 
“Placerville tree factory.” He was vague on the 
details, but he knew that “they genetically 
modify trees there.” The “tree factory” turned 
out to be the Institute of Forest Genetics--one 
of the alleged targets in the conspiracy.

According to the government’s complaint, the four 
agreed to meet again in the fall in Northern 
California. After Philadelphia, McDavid went back 
to the Auburn area. Weiner stayed in 
Philadelphia, and Jenson roamed around a bit, 
sleeping on couches in D.C., Oregon and San Francisco.

Getting the three anarchists together must have 
been something like herding cats for Anna. E-mail 
records and other notes from the investigation 
show that Anna was the one trying to keep the others on a time schedule.

Anna bought Weiner’s plane tickets to California, 
said Reichel. Later, in audio transcripts of a 
conversation between the two women, Anna asked 
Weiner, “You’re going to pay me back for those plane tickets, right?”

“They needed money to survive. They had no money 
at all. They were 'freegans,’” said Reichel.

In November, the four met at McDavid’s parents’ 
house in Foresthill, where, according to the 
government, they discussed carrying out some sort 
of “direct action” in the name of ELF. They ate 
stir-fried shrimp and vegan pancakes. They hiked 
and read. They also discussed a recipe that 
involved crystals created by mixing and heating 
ammonia and bleach. Those crystals, McDavid 
believed, then could be mixed with “plumber’s 
putty” to create an explosive akin to C4. 
According to the FBI, McDavid acknowledged that 
they were involved in a criminal conspiracy.

After the fall meeting, Anna wrote numerous 
e-mails trying to coordinate the group’s plans.

She urged Jenson to help convince Weiner to come 
back to California, saying, “You should help me 
work on ff.” (FF stands for Firefly, a nickname 
of Weiner’s.) In another e-mail, she wrote, 
“[Weiner] wants to push off Cali till later. I told her that’s bullshit. Argh.”


The alleged conspirators never did manage to 
create any explosive material--despite Anna’s help.
Illustration By Gia-Bao Tran
During this time, according to FBI notes included 
in evidence, in December, Weiner purchased a copy 
of the book The Poor Man’s James Bond--containing 
recipes and instructions for various makeshift 
explosives and do-it-yourself weapons--from an 
anarchist bookstore in Philadelphia. Reichel said 
that earlier, Anna had told the group that she 
had worked as a high-school chemistry teacher.
On December 10, 2005, Anna gave McDavid the 
recipe for potassium chlorate in an e-mail that 
she had encoded with a simple letter-shift code 
(A equals G, B equals H, etc). The e-mail starts, 
“I think this is what you meant at your house. If 
you want the rest, tell me ...”

“It was really unsophisticated,” Reichel said. “I 
think she was trying to think of something that 
could possibly yield something and was simple 
enough to do in the backyard for three idiots.”

At first, McDavid didn’t get it. He thickly 
replied, “Did you see what you sent me? You need 
to lay off the caffeeen cheeka.”

Anna replied, “Why don’t you think a little broader about what I sent you?”
“Don’t take it so hard/or me so seriously cheeka,” he wrote back.

Later, Anna wrote to Jenson complaining about 
McDavid. “Tell the Pirate [McDavid’s nickname] 
I’m sorry I snapped. I worked really hard on that 
e-mail, it seemed like he just laughed it off.” 
She asked Jenson to write to McDavid and give him 
the key to decoding the message. “Tell him to subtract six,” she explained.

She and McDavid smoothed things over, because two 
days later she wrote, “I’m just glad were talking 
again. Talk to me more. I miss you and am counting down the days.”

Cabin fever

Before the others arrived back in Northern 
California, Anna had rented the cabin in Dutch 
Flat, which she described in one e-mail as “a 
place that’s totally under the table, secure, 
hidden, but not too hidden that we look like Ted Kazynciski [sic].”
The group would stay in the cabin for less than a 
week--from January 8 to January 13--unaware that 
there was a hidden video camera already set up 
beside the television and an FBI surveillance 
team set up outside videotaping and recording what was happening inside.

FBI agent Walker confirmed during the bail 
hearing of Weiner that Anna rented the cabin and 
may have helped buy some of the materials for 
making the potassium chlorate that the four agreed to test while at Dutch Flat.

Much of the surveillance of the cabin captured 
the mundane details of the lives of four young 
people on vacation. There are reports of the four 
traveling to a pizza restaurant, buying pizza, 
returning to the cabin and eating pizza. They 
discussed music. Weiner enjoys Jimi Hendrix and 
Jello Biafra. Anna likes Beyoncé and Destiny’s 
Child. The other three never seemed to realize 
that Anna was an informant, even when she used a 
heavy hand to guide their conversations.

“All right, what do we wanna do next? Do we want 
to go back to Auburn and recon banks and gas 
stations?” she asked at one point on the tape. 
“You guys change your mind a lot,” she offered 
later. Then, later still, “It seems like you guys don’t want to do it at all.”

On January 10, the four toured the Institute of 
Forest Genetics in Placerville, using fake names 
and posing as college students for a tour. They 
were under surveillance the whole time by FBI 
agents and agents of the U.S. Forest Service.

The government says in its complaint that McDavid 
said that he felt human casualties would be 
acceptable in an action against the IFG. But 
McDavid denies that he ever said that. “We’ve 
asked them to show us where on the tapes he said 
that. They can’t find it because he never said that,” Reichel insisted.

On January 11, there’s a report that Anna “goes 
outside” to meet an agent. Not into town, not 
down the road--she just “goes outside.”

“I know. I know. How did they not realize?” 
Reichel said, laughing. “These are not the most 
sophisticated people. This is not the Symbionese Liberation Army.”

On January 11, Anna drove the other three in her 
Chevy Lumina to Wal-Mart in Natomas, where the 
group bought the items needed to make the explosives from Anna’s recipe.

McDavid and Weiner tried to cook bleach and other 
chemicals down to create crystals of potassium 
chlorate, in full view of the FBI surveillance 
team outside. But the glass container they were 
using became too hot and broke, spilling its 
contents on the ground. The two would-be 
guerrillas had nothing to show for their troubles 
but rattled nerves and a puddle of warm bleach.

On January 12, cabin fever set in. The audio 
transcripts contain a long and convoluted 
discussion that evening involving all four 
members of the group. The transcripts reveal a lot of disagreement and doubt.

At this point, the IFG facility was out, at least 
for the time being, partly because, even after 
its tour, the group still wasn’t quite sure what 
the scientists there did. McDavid suggested the IFG could be a fallback plan.

The Nimbus Dam was out; Weiner didn’t like the 
idea of creating another New Orleans. “Why would 
we want to create that?” she asked.

“It’ll kill people and take out people’s homes,” Jenson agreed.

The four moved on to a discussion of blowing up 
buildings, banks and ATMs. Jenson liked the idea 
of targeting power stations to cause power 
outages. Anna asked him, “So you’ll study power grids?”

McDavid threw in, “I think smaller stuff, right 
now.” Jenson added, “It doesn’t need to be done, like, now, right?”


Eric McDavid’s attorney, Mark Reichel, says the 
government is "manufacturing crime."
Illustration By Gia-Bao Tran
Anna pressed them. “I thought we were going to do 
the tree factory because it was easy,” she 
complained. Weiner replied, “But it’s not,” and 
the two guys agreed. McDavid apologized for his 
waffling. “I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings,” he said.

During the conversation, McDavid asked Anna what 
was wrong. “Big shuffle a little too big for 
you?” Anna replied, “I’m just sad we lost the 
Forest Service one.” It’s not lost, Weiner 
answered. “It’s not going anywhere,” McDavid added.

But Anna was getting frustrated. “I guess I’m 
just different than you guys. I don’t like 
amorphous crap. ... I wish one day we could keep 
the damned plan. I wish one day you guys could 
stick to a list. Why can’t one of you guys say, 'Hey, this is what we want’?”

Here, Reichel said, Anna sensed that the 
conspiracy was falling apart, and she began 
trying hard to get them to make statements about 
specific targets. “Yeah, I would like a damned 
goal,” she pleaded with the others.

The four agreed that they needed to purchase more 
supplies to keep experimenting with the 
explosive. “But at that point, it’s over,” said 
Reichel. “The whole thing had peaked,” and the 
conspirators were going to break up and leave 
Dutch Flat. But then Friday the 13th happened.

Terrorists or knuckleheads?

U.S. Attorney Lapham refused to answer specific 
questions about the evidence against the three 
would-be ELF members. He wouldn’t comment on 
things Anna did or didn’t do, or respond to 
questions about the transcripts from FBI 
surveillance of the cabin or the e-mail 
correspondence between the group members. “I just 
can’t be perceived as trying my case in the 
press,” Lapham explained. He did speak generally 
about what is in the government’s complaint 
against the three and about conspiracy and entrapment generally.

For example, he disagreed that debate about 
possible targets, such as the conversation on 
January 12, indicated a lack of agreement about carrying out a criminal act.

“Let’s say Al Qaeda has a meeting, and one guy 
wants to target the World Trade Center, and 
another guy wants to target Congress, and another 
wants to target the White House,” Lapham 
explained. “Just because there’s a debate, does 
that mean there’s no conspiracy to target buildings in the United States?”

“Bullshit,” responded Reichel. “If you had to 
choose, with limited resources, which of these 
places to protect from these people, you’d say, 'None of them.’”

Like his rival, Reichel has some history with cases against anarchists.

He’s defended anarchists before, like Wobbly 
organizer Harjit Gill, who was convicted of lying 
to a grand jury about a McDonald’s that was 
torched in Chico in 2003 in the name of ALF. 
(Gill was never accused of being involved in the fire.)

Reichel describes himself as a mainstream 
Democrat. “I eat at McDonald’s. I live in a tract 
home. I drive an Excursion.” He likes his client, 
but he has a habit of calling McDavid a knucklehead and an idiot.

And he’s getting ready to file a motion to 
dismiss the case because of “outrageous government misconduct.”

His client engaged in stupid, evil talk, said 
Reichel. But that was all. There could have been 
no conspiracy, he insisted, without Anna, the FBI 
agent who seemed to have all the answers.

“She provides the money. She provides the car. 
She rents the cabin. Oh, and by the way, 'I used 
to be a high-school chemistry teacher, so this is 
second nature to me.’” All that adds up to 
entrapment and worse, he said. “This is a case 
where the government is manufacturing crime,” Reichel added.

Professor George Harris, who teaches at McGeorge 
School of Law, isn’t so sure. He explained that 
federal law gives law enforcement and prosecutors a lot of latitude.

“Just because the FBI provides an opportunity to 
commit the crime doesn’t make it entrapment,” 
Harris said. He added, “Federal conspiracy law 
has developed in a way that is quite broad. It’s 
generally fairly easy to prove. That’s why prosecutors like it a lot.”

Consider the recent arrest for conspiracy of a 
group of Haitians in Miami, who had no expertise, 
no bomb-making materials and only an inkling of 
what they wanted to target. The government 
declared another victory against domestic 
terrorism in that case, but it raised questions 
of “pre-emptive” arrests in the national media.

Closer to home, the trial of father and son Umer 
and Hamid Hayat revealed that an FBI informant 
encouraged Hamid to attend terrorist training 
camps in Pakistan, exactly what Hayat was tried for.

The jury will have to decide whether those 
activities constituted entrapment or good clean 
anti-terrorist work. “If the defense of 
entrapment is raised, the government does have 
the burden of proving that the defendant wasn’t 
induced into the crime. We think we can do that,” Lapham said.

“You don’t have to wait until the match is lit to 
take action,” he added. McDavid is facing 
somewhere between 17 and 20 years in federal 
prison for the conspiracy. He’s eligible for the 
maximum penalty because it was considered a terrorist conspiracy.

Reichel said that, unlike Weiner and Jenson, 
McDavid wants to go to trial--though life in 
custody is taking its toll. “He lives a life of 
total hell. He spends 24 hours a day in his tiny 
cell.” McDavid is in what jailers call “T-sep,” 
or total separation. It’s supposed to be for 
McDavid’s own protection. Having been labeled a 
terrorist, he’s more likely to be attacked by 
other inmates, Reichel explained.

But McDavid is no terrorist, Reichel said. He’s 
just a big talker who got manipulated by an 
informant eager to produce a real live terrorist for her bosses.

“There’s a certain angst that comes with being a 
certain age. You say things you probably wouldn’t act on.”

“But when you have someone poking you and 
prodding, egging you on, that’s different,” Reichel added.

As for Anna, nobody but her FBI handlers knows 
where she is today. There are rumors that she’s 
back in Iowa, though she could be anywhere that 
young anarchists and radical environmentalists 
are congregated. In fact, the next time you 
attend a large demonstration, against the World 
Trade Organization or maybe the Democratic 
National Convention, you might meet her.

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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