[Ppnews] Testing the Limits of Dissent and Repression in the Green Scare

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sun Dec 17 11:08:57 EST 2006

Testing the Limits of Dissent and Repression in the Green Scare
By Dan Berger

One of the biggest post-9/11 criminal cases involves the prosecution 
of fourteen radical environmentalists on a slew of charges for 
property destruction, mainly arson, and conspiracy. The actions for 
which they are accused occurred date back as far as 1996 and include 
the multi-million dollar destruction of a Vail ski lodge expansion in 
1998. No one was hurt in any of the actions, which were claimed by 
the Earth Liberation Front, the Animal Liberation Front, or jointly 
by the equally shadowy and decentralized groups.

The FBI swooped up the defendants in December 2005 in multi-state 
raids the government dubbed "Operation Backfire." This massive 
operation targeting the awkwardly named phenomenon of 
"eco-terrorism"--but which environmentalists and civil libertarians 
are dubbing "the Green Scare"--is at the centerpiece of the Bush 
administration's assault on domestic dissent under the auspices of 
fighting terrorism. The "terrorism" these defendants are accused of, 
like other eco-militants arrested in recent years, has targeted the 
property of large corporations to the tune of more than $100 
million--done intentionally without harming anyone.

Yet because the T-word is attached to the case, people are facing 
more severe punishments than they might otherwise face for property 
destruction--including the possibility of life in prison. Indeed, six 
of the fourteen pled guilty shortly after their arrest in exchange 
for reduced--but still lengthy--sentences. Part of their plea 
agreement, however, mandates that the half-dozen eco-militants 
cooperate with the state in ongoing investigations against radical 
environmentalists for the rest of their lives.

The case has been built on informants: the government's star witness 
who helped build the initial case is, by his own admission in a 
gossipy article in the August Rolling Stone, a longtime drug addict 
who says he took part in several of the arsons yet who faces no 
charges himself. After the FBI starting applying significant pressure 
in the Pacific Northwest through grand juries and home visits, other 
activists also began cooperating as the government expanded the 
number of people indicted to 18. Some remained defiant; Jeff Hogg 
spent six months in jail for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury.

Of the remaining eight defendants from the initial arrest, one 
person, Bill Rodgers, committed suicide in his cell shortly after 
being arrested in December. Three people remain at large, and four 
people--Nathan Block, Daniel McGowan, Jonathan Paul, and Joyanna 
Zacher--changed their pleas to guilty in November, after months of 
negotiation. As a condition of their plea, however, these four 
defendants remain non-cooperative with the state. As a result, 
prosecutors will seek a "terrorism enhancement" charge in their case, 
attempting to add up to 20 years to the reduced plea sentence.

Many progressives haven't paid much, if any, attention to the trial 
of these eco-militants--feeling distanced, perhaps, from a movement 
that has not only utilized illegal tactics but has generally done too 
little to incorporate itself into a broader social justice 
initiatives and whose militant sectors have earned the wrath of the 
FBI as the "number-one domestic terrorist threat," according to FBI 
deputy assistant director John Lewis last year.

But the ramifications of this case are too large to ignore, and not 
just because it is likely that such militant actions will increase in 
number as the earth's destruction becomes more severe.

One of the defendants is Daniel McGowan, an activist who has devoted 
significant attention to exactly the kind of bridge building that the 
environmental movement is in desperate need of. As with radical 
attorney Lynne Stewart and incendiary professor Ward Churchill, the 
government has gone after seemingly extreme radicals in the hope of 
cleaving off any significant support from the left for people whose 
tactics or politics prove controversial, even among progressive 
circles. Unlike Stewart and Churchill, however, many of these 
eco-activists face up to life in prison as a result of illegal 
activities and an investigation bolstered by informants and surveillance.

It is a strategy that has been used before, with some degree of 
success: go after the apparent margins of the left as a way to limit 
the parameters of dissent more generally. The targeting of 
clandestine anti-imperialist militants and jailhouse activists of the 
1980s with experimental control unit prisons led to the more 
widespread use of such draconian institutions. This includes the 
"supermax" prisons in Florence , Colorado , and Marion , Illinois , 
as well as the other entire control unit prisons, and the "special 
housing units" within most prisons, which function as exceptionally 
austere prisons within existing prisons. In both cases, according to 
groups like Human Rights Watch, prisoners are separated from any 
human contact except the guards and confined to tiny cells for 23 
hours a day. Numerous psychologists have criticized such institutions 
for the mental illnesses they engender in those incarcerated.

This case is also one where the worst of PATRIOT ACT surveillance and 
its related snitch culture are being tested. The six who plead guilty 
in the spring and summer are required to cooperate with prosecutors 
in testifying against other defendants, numerous people have been 
hauled before grand juries to testify about environmental activism in 
the northwest (resulting in the incarceration of several people for 
refusing to comply with the invasive and undemocratic subpoenas), and 
it appears that the initial arrests were made on the basis of
voluminous surveillance data. Besides informants, the case is 
evidently built off the National Security Agency's domestic spying program.

According to a September story in the Eugene Weekly, the government 
has handed over "some 28,000 pages of documents, 71 CDs (likely 
recordings made by snitches with wires), four DVDs and three 
videotapes. But they hedged the request [from the defense] for 
information obtained by NSA surveillance." Since a federal judge 
in  Detroit ruled domestic NSA surveillance illegal for violating the 
Fourth Amendment, revelation of warrantless wiretapping used in 
building a case against these radical environmentalists could have 
rendered the government's case null and void. The judge presiding 
over the case ordered the prosecution to "find out whether 
warrantless wiretapping was used to build a case against the
defendants," the Weekly reported.

Ultimately, however, the defense agreed to drop this motion when the 
four defendants opted to plead guilty (presumably in exchange for 
lower sentences). Still, these proceedings and the case overall mark 
an important turning point in the existence of radical opposition 
within the United States : can resistance movements develop and 
maintain consciousness about non-cooperation with the repressive aims 
of the state? And will the rights of people to oppose the government 
and corporate agenda beat back the current Orwellian strategies of control?

Check out http://www.greenscare.org or http://www.supportdaniel.org 
for updates.

Dan Berger is a writer, activist and graduate student 
in  Philadelphia . He is the co-editor of Letters From Young 
Activists:  Today's Rebels Speak Out (Nation Books, 2005) and author of

Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of 
Solidarity (AK Press, 2006).

The Freedom Archives
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