[Ppnews] Rod Coronado gave a talk in San Diego and the feds called his words ‘terrorism.’

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 3 18:54:11 EDT 2007

The Green Scare: Rod Coronado gave a talk in San 
Diego and the feds called his words ‘terrorism.’


Thursday, May 03 2007 @ 02:05 PM PDT
Contributed by: 
<http://www.infoshop.org/inews/users.php?mode=profile&uid=54>Collin Sick


It’s only appropriate, perhaps, that the future 
of the First Amendment takes shape in a hippie 
law office in San Francisco’s North Beach 
district, surrounded by strippers. A light April 
rain falls on furtive patrons of the Lusty Lady 
and the Roaring 20s on the street below as 
legendary radical environmentalist Rodney 
Coronado sits in a conference room in the Pier 5 
Law Offices, strategizing with some of this 
country’s finest civil rights attorneys.

Coronado’s no stranger to this scenario, having 
emerged only days before from his second stretch 
in federal prison, this time for eight months. He 
listens attentively, his dark Yaqui Indian 
heritage shining through as he munches on a 
veggie burrito. The glow on his fiancée Chrysta’s 
face says everything you’d need to know about how 
good it is to be out. But the joy may be 
short-lived. Now Coronado is caught up in a June 
prosecution he never could have foreseen and 
which has the environmentalist community, in 
particular, digging in for a long fight with the federal government.

That’s because his alleged crime doesn’t involve 
something he actually did. Rather, it only involves something he said.

In 2003, Coronado gave a public speech about 
animal rights in San Diego attended by about 100 
people and hosted by a vegetarian group. It was, 
he says, his “standard” speech at the time, 
talking about his own extreme efforts to protect 
wildlife, including a 1991-92 arson campaign 
against fur farms as an agent of the Animal 
Liberation Front (ALF), for which he served 57 
months in prison. During a Q&A period after the 
speech, someone asked him how he once made his 
incendiary devices. Having long retired from that 
kind of action, and having paid for it with 
prison time, he answered the question.

U.S. Attorneys now say Coronado’s brief response 
– the actual speech itself – is a federal crime. 
Not only that, it’s terrorism.

And that word – terrorism – is new to the 
environmental movement, with regard to actual 
punishment for crimes. The word “eco-terrorist” 
was coined by powerhouse PR firm Hill & Knowlton 
back in 1990, but only recent laws make 
ecologically motivated speech a terrorist crime. 
The attorneys aren’t even totally certain how it 
works. I ask the question, cognizant that 
Coronado and his fiancée are in the room, and 
opinions fly. Ben Rosenfeld, from the offices of 
famed attorney Dennis Cunningham, says the 
government’s plea offer, which they turned down, 
was 21 months. Tony Serra, the silver-haired lion 
who is a resident of these offices and who has 
successfully championed everyone from Black 
Panther Huey Newton to the Hells Angels to Earth 
First!er Judi Bari, says he always figures the 
judge could go twice the offer, so 42 months.

But Jerry Singleton, the attorney who is 
defending Coronado’s case in federal district 
court in San Diego, shakes his head.

“The government is holding out that there’s this 
bogeyman,” says Singleton. “They’re saying that 
the guidelines, which would put him at, I think, 
18 years, would be the ones that apply. Those 
were post-9/11.” That stuns the room for a minute.

“I don’t think those sentencing guidelines are 
applicable in this case, not the way it’s been 
charged,” opines another Pier 5 attorney, Omar Figueroa.

“Well there’s an argument that they are,” says 
Singleton, shooting a look at Coronado. “They’re trying to use them.”

Eighteen years would be a shocking sentence for a 
speech even if Coronado were the only one facing 
time like this, but he’s got company. Since 2005, 
the government has brought over 20 cases against 
environmentalists that have redefined not only 
free speech, but also redefined environmentally 
motivated property destruction – like torching 
Hummers or tree-felling equipment – as being on a 
par with the murderous assaults of Al Qaeda. 
Twenty eco-radicals might not sound like a lot, 
but it’s almost as many as had been arrested for 
major crimes in the 18 years previous, while 
1,200 known attacks by ALF or its younger twin, 
the Earth Liberation Front, caused as much as 
$200 million in damages. It is important to note 
that no persons have ever been injured or killed 
in these attacks, but industry lobbying groups 
have forced the government to make prosecuting them a top priority.

Environmentalists are calling it the “green 
scare,” in reference to the “red scare” that 
characterized the hunt for communists during the 
McCarthy era. The wave of prosecutions have sent 
a shock through the part of the movement that 
engages in direct action, like activists 
bicycle-locking themselves to bulldozers. The 
terrorism sentencing enhancements that the 
government is threatening to use in Coronado’s 
case will apparently first be used against 10 
animal activists in Oregon being sentenced in 
May. In another case in New Jersey, six activists 
were given sentences as long as six years for 
running a website that posted information about 
vandalism attacks – without connecting them to 
the vandalism in any way. In the meantime, even 
the Democratic-controlled Congress keeps 
ratcheting up the laws, passing in November the 
Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which makes 
attacks against the profits of animal-based 
industries into, once again, terrorism.

“You have to look at Rod’s case in conjunction 
with the whole spate of vindictive cases that the 
government has been bringing against radical 
environmentalists, who the government carelessly 
lumps in with terrorists, and members of ELF or 
ALF and sometimes just anarchists,” says 
Rosenfeld. “The government has been on record as 
admitting it’s made a domestic priority out of 
going after this movement writ large.”

True enough, the U.S. Department of Justice has 
said in congressional testimony since at least 
1999 that it considered ALF and ELF to be “top 
priorities” in the fight against domestic 
terrorism. But that has never included people who 
make animal rights websites. Or widely published 
activist leaders like Coronado who make speeches. 
Until now. Rosenfeld says he’s started to field 
concerned calls from other environmental groups.

“It is having a huge chilling impact on people,” 
he adds. “The government has shown its 
willingness to go after people based purely on 
speech and ideology. People don’t know anymore 
what they can safely even say, let alone what 
they can safely do. This is at complete variance 
with what most people believe is protected activity.”

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