[Ppnews] Green Scared? Preliminary Lessons of the Green Scare

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Mar 4 10:57:53 EST 2008

Green Scared? Preliminary Lessons of the Green Scare
by CrimethInc.
Tuesday Mar 4th, 2008 2:19 AM

For Those Who Came In Late . . .

At the end of 2005, the FBI opened a new phase of 
its assault on earth and animal liberation 
movements with the arrests and indictments of 
several current and former activists. This 
offensive, dubbed 
Backfire, was intended to obtain convictions for 
many of the unsolved 
Liberation Front arsons of the preceding ten 
years. Of those subpoenaed and charged, eight 
ultimately cooperated with the government and 
informed on others in hopes of reduced sentences: 
Stanislas Meyerhoff, Kevin Tubbs, Chelsea Dawn 
Gerlach, Suzanne Savoie, Kendall Tankersley, 
Jennifer Kolar, Lacey Phillabaum, and 
Thurston. Four held out through a terrifying 
year, during which it seemed certain they would 
end up serving decades in prison, until they were 
able to broker plea deals in which they could 
claim responsibility for their actions without 
providing information about others: 
<http://www.supportdaniel.org/>Daniel McGowan, 
<http://www.supportjonathan.org/>Jonathan Paul, 
(aka Nathan Block), and Sadie (aka Joyanna 
Zacher). <http://www.supportbriana.org/>Briana 
Waters is standing trial as this goes to print, 
while Joseph Dibee, Josephine Overaker, Rebecca 
Rubin, and Justin Solondz have been charged but 
not found. One more defendant, 
Rodgers (aka Avalon), tragically passed away in 
an alleged suicide while in custody shortly after his arrest.

The months following the launch of Operation 
Backfire saw an unprecedented increase in 
government repression of anarchist environmental 
activists, which came to be known as the 
<http://greenscare.org/>Green Scare. Longtime 
animal liberation activist 
<http://www.supportrod.org/>Rod Coronado was 
charged with a felony for answering a question 
during a speaking appearance, and faced 
potentially decades in prison. 
<http://www.shac7.com/>Six animal rights 
activists associated with 
the campaign against animal testing corporation 
Huntingdon Life Sciences, were sentenced to 
several years in prison, essentially for running 
a website. Animal liberationist 
Young, who had spent seven years on the run from 
the FBI, had finally been captured and was being 
threatened with double jeopardy. 
<http://www.trearrow.org/>Tre Arrow, famous for 
100-foot fall when police and loggers forced him 
out of a forest occupation, was fighting 
extradition from Canada to the United States to 
face arson charges. Innumerable people were 
subpoenaed to grand juries. In theory, the task 
of a grand jury is to examine the validity of an 
accusation before trial. In practice, grand 
juries are used to force information out of 
people: by granting an individual immunity 
regarding a specific case, a grand jury can 
compel him or her to answer questions or else go 
to prison for contempt of court. and some did 
jail time for refusing to cooperate. Perhaps most 
ominously of all, three young people were set up 
by an agent provocateur and arrested on 
conspiracy charges without having actually done 
anything at all. Two of them, Zachary Jenson and 
Lauren Weiner, pled guilty and became government 
informants; the third, 
<http://www.supporteric.org/>Eric McDavid, who 
has contracted life-threatening health problems 
as a consequence of being denied vegan food by 
his jailers, was recently found guilty and awaits sentencing.

This phase of the Green Scare seems to be drawing 
to a close. Most of those apprehended in 
Operation Backfire are now serving their 
<http://www.shac7.com/dari/index.htm>The first of 
the SHAC defendants has been released from 
prison. Peter Young has been out of prison for a 
year and is doing speaking tours. Rod Coronado’s 
trial <http://supportrod.org/?page_id=55>ended in 
a deadlock, and he 
<http://supportrod.org/?p=60>took a plea in 
return for a short sentence when the government 
threatened to bring further charges against him. 
It’s been months now since a new high profile 
felony case was brought against an environmental 
federal agents have been poking around in the 
Midwest. It’s time to begin deriving lessons from 
the past two years of government repression, to 
equip the next generation that will take the 
front lines in the struggle to defend life on earth.

Distinguishing between Perceived and Real Threats

In some anarchist circles, the initial onset of 
the Green Scare was met with a panic that rivaled 
the response to the September 11 attacks. This, 
of course, was exactly what the government 
wanted: quite apart from bringing individual 
activists to “justice,” they hoped to intimidate 
all who see direct action as the most effective 
means of social change. Rather than aiding the 
government by making exaggerated assumptions 
about how dangerous it is to be an anarchist 
today, we must sort out what these cases show 
about the current capabilities and limits of government repression.

The purpose of this inquiry is not to advocate or 
sensationalize any particular tactic or approach. 
We should be careful not to glorify illegal 
activity­it’s important to note that most of even 
the staunchest non-cooperating defendants have 
expressed regrets about their choices, though 
this must be understood in the context of their 
court cases. At the same time, federal repression 
affects everyone involved in resistance, not just 
those who participate in illegal direct action; 
the Green Scare offers case studies of the 
situation we are all in, like it or not.

Case Study in Repression: Eugene, Oregon

Operation Backfire took place against a backdrop 
of government investigation, harassment, and 
profiling of presumed anarchists in the Pacific 
Northwest. It is no coincidence that 
Oregon was a major focus of the Operation 
Backfire cases, as it has been a hotbed of 
dissent and radicalism over the past decade and a 
and other problems have taken a toll in recent 
years. We can’t offer a definitive analysis of 
the internal dynamics of the Eugene anarchist 
community, but we can look at how the authorities went about repressing it.

One useful resource for this inquiry is 
Direct Actions: A Challenge for Law Enforcement,” 
[PDF link] an article that appeared in Studies in 
Conflict & Terrorism in 2005, authored by Randy 
Borum of the University of South Florida and 
Chuck Tilby of the Eugene Police Department. 
According to <http://www.freefreenow.org/>Jeff 
(“Free”) Luers, Tilby was one of the cops who 
surveilled Free and his co-defendant Critter on 
the night of their arrest in June 2000. Tilby has 
given presentations on the “criminal anarchist” 
movement to law enforcement groups, and was 
intimately involved in the Operation Backfire 
cases, even making statements to the media and 
providing a quote to the 
press release at the end of the Oregon federal prosecution.

Surprisingly, the article does not explicitly 
reference Eugene, Oregon at all. Besides Tilby’s 
byline at the beginning, there’s no indication 
that the paper was co-written from Eugene. All 
the same, the article provides several important 
clues about how the government proceeded against 
the Oregon defendants and those who were perceived to support them.

The authors centralize the importance of 
intelligence and informants for repressing 
criminal “anarchists,” while acknowledging the 
difficulty of obtaining them. In the case of 
grand jury subpoenas, anarchists regularly fail 
to comply, and support groups are often set up 
for those targeted; one of the more recent 
examples of this was 
Hogg, who received a grand jury subpoena while 
the Backfire prosecutions were underway and was 
jailed for nearly six months in 2006 as a result. 
The authors warn that “investigators and law 
enforcement officers should be cautious during 
questioning not to divulge more to the subject 
about the case (via questions), than is learned 
through their testimony.” Indeed, questions asked 
by grand juries turned up more than once in the 
pages of the 
<http://www.earthfirstjournal.org/>Earth First! 
Journal, which was edited from Eugene for a time. 
It is extremely important to support those under 
investigation and keep abreast of investigators’ 
efforts. Some believe that the Backfire 
investigation only arrived at a position of real 
strength once such support started to weaken in Oregon.

Regarding infiltration, “Anarchist Direct 
Actions” advises that: Infiltration is made more 
difficult by the communal nature of the 
[anarchist] lifestyle (under constant observation 
and scrutiny) and the extensive knowledge held by 
many anarchists, which require a considerable 
amount of study and time to acquire. Other 
strategies for infiltration have been explored, 
but so far have not been successful. Discussion 
of these theories in an open paper is not advisable.

What we know of the early Backfire investigation 
points to a strategy of generalized monitoring 
and infiltration. While investigators used 
increasingly focused tools and strategies as the 
investigation gained steam­for example, sending 
“cooperating witnesses” wearing body wires to 
talk to specific targets­they started out by 
sifting through a whole demographic of 
counter-cultural types. Activist and punk houses 
as well as gathering spots such as bars were 
placed under surveillance­anarchists who drink 
should be careful about the way alcohol can 
loosen lips. Infiltrators and informants targeted 
not only the most visibly committed anarchists, 
but also bohemians who inhabited similar cultural 
and social spheres. Police accumulated tremendous 
amounts of background information even while 
failing to penetrate the circles in which direct 
action was organized. The approximately 30,000 
pages of discovery in the Oregon cases contain a 
vast amount of gossip and background information 
on quite a few from the Eugene community.

A similar profiling methodology appears to have 
been used in nearby Portland, Oregon. In March 
2001, for example, a large-scale police raid was 
carried out on a house party attended by Portland 
punk rockers. The attendees were photographed and 
questioned about the Earth and Animal Liberation 
Fronts. Some were arrested and charged with 
kidnapping and assault on an officer­a standard 
over-charging which eventually led to plea deals. 
The defendants from the raid were videotaped at 
their court appearances by officers later 
identified as Gang Enforcement Unit members. In 
the aftermath of this raid, cops routinely 
harassed punks on the street, demanding to be 
told whether they were anarchists.

In retrospect, it seems likely that such efforts 
were not meant simply to intimidate Portland’s 
punks, but to uncover information relevant to the 
anarchist and ALF/ELF cases of the time. For 
information on this incident in Portland, see 
Kristian Williams’ “The Criminalization of 
Anarchism, Part Two: Guilt by Association, 
Questionable Confessions and Mandatory Minimums,” 
reprinted in Confrontations: Selected Journalism 
by Tarantula Publications. This may have been a 
wrong step in the Backfire investigation; right 
now there’s no way to know. We do know, however, 
that “wide net” approaches by the state can be 
effective at stifling socially aware subcultures, 
even when they uncover no real links to radical 
action. Fortunately, in Portland those affected 
by the raid came together in response, aiding 
each other, limiting the damage done, and taking 
advantage of the situation to draw attention to police activity.

Another point of speculation is the degree to 
which authorities fostered division and 
infighting within radical circles in Eugene. This 
was a common 
The FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program 
(COINTELPRO) existed officially from 1956 to 1971 
and probably continues to this day in some form. 
Aiming to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, 
or otherwise neutralize” the activities of groups 
like the Black Panther Party, the Program 
utilized a wide variety of dirty tricks. Houses 
and offices were searched and documents stolen 
without any warrants having been issued; rumors 
were spread in order to foster mistrust and even 
violence between different organizations or 
factions within them; group members were harassed 
through the courts or even wholly framed for 
crimes they did not commit; infiltrators and 
agent provocateurs were distributed within target 
constituencies; no act of psychological warfare 
or blatant violence was ruled out. The program 
was finally exposed when radicals broke into an 
FBI Office and seized documents relating to the 
secret program, circulating them to various 
sources under the name of the “Citizens’ 
Commission to Investigate the FBI.” tactic, and 
is probably still in use. Borum and Tilby hint at 
this in the final section of their paper, “Law 
Enforcement Strategies/ Implications”:Internal 
conflicts are another major source of 
vulnerability within the movement. The DoT 
[“Diversity of Tactics”] debate has already been 
addressed, but the movement also is struggling 
with a perceived lack of power among women, and 
the lack of inclusion of ethnic minorities. This 
kind of conflict occurred three decades ago 
within the leftist revolutionary movement in the United States.

For those familiar with Eugene radical circles, 
this brings to mind the heated conflicts over 
gender and feminism within that community. There 
is no concrete evidence that government 
operatives were involved in escalating such 
debates, and we should be careful not to jump to 
conclusions; such speculation can only assist the 
state by propagating paranoia. However, law 
enforcement from local to federal levels must 
have been aware of the vulnerabilities that 
opened up when real debates turned to groupthink 
and factionalism in Eugene. Tilby and his cohorts 
must have used such insights to their advantage 
as they devised anti-anarchist strategies. By the 
time Operation Backfire grand juries began 
following up on real leads in Eugene, many who 
could have come together to oppose them were no 
longer on speaking terms. While this does not 
justify the lack of integrity shown by those who 
assisted grand juries, it does offer some context 
for why the grand juries weren’t resisted more effectively.

Borum and Tilby close their paper by urging 
investigators to display “patience and 
persistence”­and indeed, patience and persistence 
ultimately paid off in Operation Backfire. This 
is not to lend credibility to the notion that 
“The FBI always get their man.” The investigation 
was riddled with errors and missteps; plenty of 
other actions will never be prosecuted, as the 
authorities got neither lucky breaks nor useful 
cooperation. But we must understand that 
repression, and resistance to it, are both 
long-term projects, stretching across years and decades.

According to some accounts, one of the most 
significant leads in Operation Backfire came from 
a naïve request for police reports at a Eugene 
police station. According to this version, the 
police deduced from this request that they should 
pay attention to Jacob Ferguson; Ferguson later 
became the major informant in these cases. It is 
less frequently mentioned that the police were 
accusing Ferguson of an arson he did not 
participate in! With Ferguson, the unlikely 
happened and it paid off for the authorities to 
be wrong. Later on, when agents made their first 
arrests and presented grand jury subpoenas on 
December 7, 2005, two of those subpoenaed were 
wrongly assumed to have been involved in attacks. 
Their subpoenas were eventually dropped, as the 
authorities gained the cooperation of more 
informants and eventually made moves to arrest Exile and Sadie instead.

The investigation was not as unstoppable and 
dynamic as the government would like us to think, 
although the prosecution gathered force as more 
individuals rolled on others. The authorities 
spent years stumbling around, and they continued 
to falter even when prosecution efforts were 
underway­but they were tenacious and kept at 
their efforts. Meanwhile, radical momentum was less consistent.

Let’s review the arc of radical activity in 
Eugene over the past decade. The 
<http://infoshop.org/page/J18>anticapitalist riot 
of June 18, 1999 in Eugene led to jubilation on 
the part of anarchists, even if one participant 
spent seven years in prison as a result. The 
participants in the June 18 Day of Action had put 
up a fight and fucked up some symbols of misery 
in the town, catching the police unprepared. 
pitched battles on the streets of Seattle later 
that year at the WTO meeting only reinforced the 
feeling that the whole world was up for grabs. 
Most of the active anarchists in Eugene had never 
lived through such a period before. Despite the 
paltry demands and muddled analysis of much of 
the official “antiglobalization” movement, there 
was a sense that deeper change could be fought 
for and won. Being an anarchist seemed like the 
coolest thing you could be, and this perception 
was magnified by the media attention that 
followed. The ELF was setting fires all over the region at the time.

A series of reversals followed. In June 2001, 
Free received his initial sentence of 22 years 
and eight months. The following month, 
Giuliani was murdered on the streets of Genoa 
during protests against the 
summit in Italy. While both of these tragedies 
illustrated the risks of confronting the 
capitalist system, Free’s sentence hit home 
especially hard in Eugene. In the changed 
atmosphere, some began dropping away and “getting 
on with their lives”­not necessarily betraying 
their earlier principles, but shifting their 
focus and priorities. This attrition intensified 
when American flags appeared everywhere in the 
aftermath of 
11, 2001 [PDF link]. Anarchist efforts did not 
cease, but a period of relative disorientation 
followed. A year and a half later, the invasion 
of Iraq provided another opportunity for radicals 
to mobilize, but some consistency had been lost 
in the Eugene area. And all the while, FBI 
employees and police kept their regular hours, day in and day out.

Law enforcement received its most significant 
breakthrough in the Backfire cases­even though it 
started as an incorrect hypothesis­just before 
Free’s sentencing, in the period between 
anarchist jubilation and the shift to the 
defensive. The same fires that were incorrectly 
linked to Ferguson were used to justify Free’s 
stiff sentence, which intimidated some anarchists 
out of action. There was not enough revaluation, 
learning, and sharpening of skills, nor enough 
efforts at conflict resolution; the retreat 
occurred by default. What would have happened if 
the Backfire investigation had continued under 
different circumstances, while radicals 
maintained their momentum? That would be another 
story. Its conclusion is unknown.

Putting up a Fight

Repression will exist as long as there are states 
and people who oppose them. Complete 
invulnerability is impossible, for governments as 
well as their opponents. All the infiltrators and 
informants of the Tsarist secret police were 
powerless to prevent the Russian revolution of 
1917, just as the 
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stasi>East German 
Stasi were unable to prevent the fall of the 
Berlin Wall even though they had files on six 
million people. Revolutionary struggles can 
succeed even in the face of massive repression; 
for our part, we can minimize the effects of that 
repression by preparing in advance.

For many years now anarchists have focused on 
developing security culture, but security 
consciousness alone is not enough. There are some 
points one can never emphasize too much­don’t 
gossip about sensitive matters, share delicate 
information on a need-to-know basis. It does 
appear that Operation Backfire defendants could 
have done better at limiting the flow of 
information inside their circles. Rather than 
organizing in closed, consistent cells, the 
defendants seem to have worked in more fluid 
arrangements, with enough crossover that once a 
few key participants turned informant the 
government had information about everyone. don’t 
surrender your rights if detained or arrested, 
don’t cooperate with grand juries, don’t sell 
other people out. But one can abide by all these 
dictums and still make crucial mistakes. If 
anti-repression strategies center only on what we 
should not talk about, we lose sight of the 
necessity of clear communication for communities in struggle.

State disruption of radical movements can be 
interpreted as a kind of “armed critique,” in the 
way that someone throwing a brick through a 
Starbucks window is a critique in action. That is 
to say, a successful use of force against us 
demonstrates that we had pre-existing 
vulnerabilities. This is not to argue that we 
should blame the victim in situations of 
repression, but we need to learn how and why 
efforts to destabilize our activities succeed. 
Our response should not start with jail support 
once someone has been arrested. Of course this is 
important, along with longer-term support of 
those serving sentences­but our efforts must 
begin long before, countering the small 
vulnerabilities that our enemy can exploit. Open 
discussion of problems­for example, gender roles 
being imposed in nominally radical spaces­can 
protect against unhealthy resentments and 
schisms. This is not to say that every split is 
unwarranted­sometimes the best thing is for 
people to go their separate ways; but that even 
if that is necessary, they should try to maintain 
mutual respect or at least a willingness to communicate when it counts.

Risk is relative. In some cases, it may indeed be 
a good idea to lay low; in other cases, 
maintaining public visibility is viewed as too 
risky, when in fact nothing could be more 
dangerous than withdrawing from the public eye 
and letting momentum die. When we think about 
risk, we often picture security cameras and 
prison cells, but there are many more insidious 
threats. The Operation Backfire defendants ended 
up with much shorter sentences than expected; as 
it turned out, the most serious risk they faced 
was not prison time, after all, but recantation 
and betrayal­a risk that proved all too real. 
Likewise, we can imagine Eric McDavid, who 
currently awaits sentencing on conspiracy 
charges, idly discussing the risk factor of a 
hypothetical action with his supposed friends­who 
turned out to be two potential informants and a 
federal agent provocateur. Unfortunately, the 
really risky thing was having those discussions 
with those people in the first place.

Preparing for the Worst

Conventional activist wisdom dictates that one 
must not mix public and clandestine activity, but 
Daniel McGowan’s case seems to contradict this. 
McGowan was not brought to trial as a result of 
investigations based on his public organizing, 
but rather because he had worked with Jacob 
Ferguson, who turned snitch under police 
pressure. Though the government was especially 
eager to convict him on account of his extensive 
prisoner support work and organizing against the 
Republican National Convention, McGowan received 
tremendous public support precisely because he 
had been so visible. This is not to say that all 
visibility is good visibility. Media attention 
was a significant factor in the conflicts that 
wracked Eugene. Such visibility can divide 
communities from within by creating the 
appearance that spokespeople have more power than 
everyone else, which provokes jealousy and stokes 
ego-driven conflicts whether or not what’s on the 
screen reflects reality on the ground. Those who 
fall prey to believing the media hype about 
themselves become dependent upon this attention, 
pursuing it rather than the unmediated 
connections and healthy relationships essential 
for long-term revolutionary struggle; the most 
valuable visibility is anchored in enduring 
communities, not media spectacles. There are 
reasonable arguments for using the media at 
times, but one must be aware of the danger of 
being used by it. Had he simply hidden in 
obscurity, he might have ended up in the same 
situation without the support that enabled him to 
weather it as successfully as he did­and without 
making as many important contributions to the anarchist movement.

Considering how many years it took the FBI to put 
together Operation Backfire and the prominent 
role of informants in so many Green Scare cases, 
it seems like it is possible to get away with a 
lot, provided you are careful and make 
intelligent decisions about who to trust. 
McGowan’s direct action résumé, as it appears in 
arguments at his sentencing, reads like something 
out of an adventure novel. One can’t help but 
think­just seven years, for all that!

The other side of this coin is that, despite all 
their precautions, the Green Scare defendants did 
get caught. No matter how careful and intelligent 
you are, it doesn’t pay to count on not getting 
caught; you have to be prepared for the worst. 
Those who are considering risky direct action 
should start from the assumption that they will 
be caught and prosecuted; before doing anything, 
before even talking about it, they should ask 
themselves whether they could accept the worst 
possible consequences. At the same time, as the 
government may target anyone at any time 
regardless of what they have actually done, it is 
important for even the most law-abiding 
activists­not to mention their friends and 
relatives­to think through how to handle being 
investigated, subpoenaed, or charged.

The Green Scare cases show that cooperating with 
the government is never in a defendant’s best 
interest. On average, the non-cooperating 
defendants in Operation Backfire are actually 
serving less time in proportion to their original 
threatened sentences than the informants (see 
chart, as a 
despite the government engaging the entire 
repressive apparatus of the United States to make 
an example of them. Exile and Sadie were 
threatened with over a thousand years in prison 
apiece, and are serving less than eight; if every 
arrestee understood the difference between what 
the state threatens and what it can actually do, 
far fewer would give up without a fight.

In the United States legal system, a court case 
is essentially a game of chicken. The state 
starts by threatening the worst penalties it 
possibly can, in hope of intimidating the 
defendant into pleading guilty and informing. It 
is easier if the defendant pleads guilty 
immediately; this saves the state immense 
quantities of time and money, not to mention the 
potential embarrassment of losing a 
well-publicized trial. Defendants should not be 
intimidated by the initial charges brought 
against them; it often turns out that many of 
these will not hold up, and are only being 
pressed to give the state more bargaining power. 
Even if a defendant fears he won’t have a leg to 
stand on in court, he can obtain some bargaining 
power of his own by threatening to put the state 
through a costly, challenging, and unpredictable 
trial­to that end, it is essential to acquire the 
best possible legal representation. When a 
defendant agrees to cooperate, he loses all that 
leverage, throwing himself at the mercy of forces 
that don’t have an ounce of mercy to offer.

As grim as things looked for Sadie, Exile, 
McGowan, and Jonathan Paul through most of 2006, 
they looked up when McGowan’s lawyer demanded 
information about whether prosecutors had used 
illegal National Security Agency wiretaps to 
gather evidence against the defendants. The 
government was loath to answer this question, and 
for good reason: there had just been a 
scandal about NSA wiretaps, and if the court 
found that wiretaps had been used 
unconstitutionally, the entire Operation Backfire 
case would have been thrown out. That’s exactly 
why so many members of the 
Underground are professors today rather than 
convicts: the FBI botched that case so badly the 
courts had to 
them go free.

No matter how hopeless things look, never 
underestimate the power of fighting it out. Until 
Stanislas Meyerhoff and others capitulated, the 
linchpin of the federal case in Operation 
Backfire was Jacob Ferguson, a heroin addict and 
serial arsonist. Had all besides Ferguson refused 
to cooperate and instead fought the charges 
together, Operation Backfire would surely have ended differently.

On Informants

If becoming an informant is always a bad idea, 
why do so many people do it? At least eleven high 
profile defendants in Green Scare cases have 
chosen to cooperate with the government against 
their former comrades, not including 
Young’s partner, who informed on him back in 
1999. These were all experienced activists who 
presumably had spent years considering how they 
would handle the pressure of interrogation and 
trial, who must have been familiar with all the 
reasons it doesn’t pay to cooperate with the 
state! What, if anything, can we conclude from 
how many of them became informants?

There has been quite a bit of opportunist 
speculation on this subject by pundits with 
little knowledge of the circumstances and even 
less personal experience. We are to take it for 
granted that arrestees became informants because 
they were privileged middle class kids; in fact, 
both the cooperating and non-cooperating 
defendants are split along class and gender 
lines. We are told that defendants snitched 
because they hadn’t been fighting for their own 
interests; what exactly are one’s “own 
interests,” if not to live in a world without 
slaughterhouses and global warming? Cheaper 
hamburgers and air conditioning, perhaps? It has 
even been suggested that it’s inevitable some 
will turn informant under pressure, so we must 
not blame those who do, and instead should avoid 
using tactics that provoke investigations and 
interrogations. This last aspersion is not worth 
dignifying with a response, except to point out 
that no crime need be committed for the 
government to initiate investigations and 
interrogations. Whether or not you support direct 
action of any kind, it is never acceptable to 
equip the state to do harm to other human beings.

Experienced radicals who have been snitched on 
themselves will tell you that there is no 
surefire formula for determining who will turn 
informant and who won’t. There have been 
informants in almost every resistance movement in 
living memory, including the Black Panther Party, 
Liberation Army, the 
Indian Movement, and the Puerto Rican 
independence movement; the Green Scare cases are 
not particularly unusual in this regard, though 
some of the defendants seem to have caved in more 
swiftly than their antecedents. It may be that 
the hullabaloo about how many eco-activists have 
turned informant is partly due to commentators’ ignorance of past struggles.

If anything discourages people from informing on 
each other, it is blood ties. Historically, the 
movements with the least snitching have been the 
ones most firmly grounded in longstanding 
communities. Arrestees in the national liberation 
movements of yesteryear didn’t cooperate because 
they wouldn’t be able to face their parents or 
children again if they did; likewise, when 
gangsters involved in illegal capitalist activity 
refuse to inform, it is because doing so would 
affect the entirety of their lives, from their 
prospects in their chosen careers to their social 
standing in prison as well as their 
neighborhoods. The stronger the ties that bind an 
individual to a community, the less likely it is 
he or she will inform against it. North American 
radicals from predominantly white demographics 
have always faced a difficult challenge in this 
regard, as most of the participants are involved 
in defiance of their families and social circles 
rather than because of them. When an ex-activist 
is facing potentially decades in prison for 
something that was essentially a hobby, with his 
parents begging him not to throw his life away 
and the system he fought against apparently 
dominating the entirety of his present and 
future, it takes a powerful sense of right and wrong to resist selling out.

In this light, it isn’t surprising that the one 
common thread that links the non-cooperating 
defendants is that practically all of them were 
still involved in either anarchist or at least 
countercultural communities. Daniel McGowan was 
ceaselessly active in many kinds of organizing 
right up to his arrest; Exile and Sadie were 
still committed to life against the grain, if not 
political activity­a witness who attended their 
sentencing described their supporters as an 
otherworldly troop of black metal fans with 
braided beards and facial piercings. Here we see 
again the necessity of forging powerful, 
long-term communities with a shared culture of 
resistance; dropouts must do this from scratch, 
swimming against the tide, but it is not impossible.

Healthy relationships are the backbone of such 
communities, not to mention secure direct action 
organizing. Again­unaddressed conflicts and 
resentments, unbalanced power dynamics, and lack 
of trust have been the Achilles heel of countless 
groups. The FBI keeps psychological profiles on 
its targets, with which to prey on their 
weaknesses and exploit potential interpersonal 
fissures. The oldest trick in the book is to tell 
arrestees that their comrades already snitched on 
them; to weather this intimidation, people must 
have no doubts about their comrades’ reliability.

“Snitches get stitches” posters notwithstanding, 
anarchists aren’t situated to enforce a 
no-informing code by violent means. It’s doubtful 
that we could do such a thing without 
compromising our principles, anyway­when it comes 
to coercion and fear, the state can always outdo 
us, and we shouldn’t aspire to compete with it. 
Instead, we should focus on demystifying 
snitching and building up the collective trust 
and power that discourage it. If being a part of 
the anarchist community is rewarding enough, no 
one will wish to exile themselves from it by 
turning informant. For this to work, of course, 
those who do inform on others must be excluded 
from our communities with absolute finality; in 
betraying others for personal advantage, they 
join the ranks of the police officers, prison 
guards, and executioners they assist.

Those who may participate in direct action 
together should first take time to get to know 
each other well, including each other’s families 
and friends, and to talk over their expectations, 
needs, and goals. You should know someone long 
enough to know what you like least about him or 
her before committing to secure activity 
together; you have to be certain you’ll be able 
to work through the most difficult conflicts and 
trust them in the most frightening situations up to a full decade later.

Judging from the lessons of the 1970s, drug 
addiction is another factor that tends to 
correlate with snitching, as it can be linked to 
deep-rooted personal problems. Indeed, Jacob 
Ferguson, the first informant in Operation 
Backfire, was a longtime heroin addict. Just as 
the Operation Backfire cases would have been a 
great deal more difficult for the government if 
no one besides Jake had cooperated, the FBI might 
never have been able to initiate the cases at all 
if others had not trusted Jake in the first place.

Prompt prisoner support is as important as public 
support for those facing grand juries. As one 
Green Scare defendant has pointed out, defendants 
often turn informant soon after arrest when they 
are off balance and uncertain what lies ahead. 
Jail is notorious for being a harsher environment 
than prison; recent arrestees may be asking 
themselves whether they can handle years of 
incarceration without a realistic sense of what 
that would entail. Supporters should bail 
defendants out of jail as quickly as possible, so 
they can be informed and level-headed as they 
make decisions about their defense strategy. To 
this end, it is ideal if funds are earmarked for 
legal support long before any arrests occur.

It cannot be emphasized enough that informing is 
always a serious matter, whether it is a question 
of a high profile defendant snitching on his 
comrades or an acquaintance of law-abiding 
activists answering seemingly harmless questions. 
The primary goal of the government in any 
political case is not to put any one defendant in 
prison but to obtain information with which to 
map radical communities, with the ultimate goal 
of repressing and controlling those communities. 
The first deal the government offered Peter Young 
was for him to return to animal rights circles to 
report to them from within: not just on illegal 
activity, but on all activity. The most minor 
piece of trivia may serve to jeopardize a 
person’s life, whether or not they have ever 
broken any law. It is never acceptable to give 
information about any other person without his or her express consent.

Regaining the Initiative

We must not conceptualize our response to 
government repression in purely reactive terms. 
It takes a lot of resources for the government to 
mount a massive operation like the Green Scare 
cases, and in doing so they create unforeseen 
situations and open up new vulnerabilities. Like 
in Judo, when the state makes a move, we can 
strike back with a countermove that catches them 
off balance. To take an example from mass 
mobilizations, the powers that be were eventually 
able to cripple the so-called anti-globalization 
movement by throwing tremendous numbers of police 
at it; but in the wake of lawsuits subsequently 
brought against them, the police in places like 
Washington, D.C. now have their hands tied when 
it comes to crowd control, as demonstrated by 
their extreme restraint at 
IMF/World Bank protests in October 2007. We’re in 
a long war with hierarchical power that cannot be 
won or lost in any single engagement; the 
question is always how to make the best of each 
development, seizing the initiative whenever we 
can and passing whatever gains we make on to those who will fight after us.

There must be a way to turn the legacy of the 
Green Scare to our advantage. One starting place 
is to use it as an opportunity to learn how the 
state investigates underground activity and make 
sure those lessons are shared with the next 
generation. Another is to find common cause with 
other targeted communities; a promising example 
of this is the recent connection between animal 
liberation activists in the Bay Area and 
supporters of the <http://www.freethesf8.org/>San 
Francisco Eight, ex-Black Panthers who are now 
being charged with the 1971 murder of a police officer.

Postscript: Cowards

“I find it ironic that you support victimized 
women, yet in your communiqués you verbally 
victimize those with whom you disagree. I wonder 
if you ever called scholars in the Northwest 
about how to be effective and take positive 
action. Like the professors who wrote letters to 
the court on your behalf, most professors are 
incredibly generous with their ideas. I’ve 
learned a lot in my years on the bench
 seen it 
 it’s called the human experience. Take off 
the masks until the real Daniel McGowan is 
 be the change you truly want to be. 
Don’t use Gandhi just when it’s convenient. I 
hope you’ll go back to your website and tell who 
you were, what you did. You may not be as 
popular, but
 change your website. Denounce, 
renounce and condemn. If you really mean it, it 
shouldn’t be hard. To the young people, send the 
message that violence doesn’t work. If you want 
to make a difference, have the courage to say how 
the life you lived was the life of a coward
is a tragedy to watch these extremely talented 
and bright young people come in and do damage to 
industries. It’s not okay to put people in fear 
doing what they need to do to survive. Take off 
the hoods, sweatshirts, and masks and have a real dialogue.”

–Judge Aiken, in sentencing Daniel McGowan to 
seven years in prison with a terrorism 
taken by Gumby Cascadia)

In reflecting on Judge Aiken’s sentencing, let us 
put aside, for the time being, the question of 
whether executives who profit from logging, 
animal exploitation, and genetic engineering are 
“doing what they need to do to survive.” Let’s 
allow to pass, as well, the suggestion that those 
who run these industries are more likely to enter 
into a “real dialogue” with environmentalists if 
the latter limit themselves to purely legal 
activity. Let’s even reserve judgment on Aiken’s 
attempt to draw parallels between domestic 
violence and sarcastically worded 
communiqués­which parallels the prosecutors’ 
assertion that the ELF, despite having never 
injured a single human being, is no different from the Ku Klux Klan.

There is but one question we cannot help but ask, 
in reference to Judge Aiken’s rhetoric about 
cowardice: if she found herself in a situation 
that called for action to be taken outside the 
established channels of the legal system, would 
she be capable of it? Or would she still insist 
on due process of law, urging others to be 
patient as human beings were sold into slavery or 
the Nazis carted people off to Dachau? Is it fair 
for a person whose complicity in the status quo 
is rewarded with financial stability and social 
status to accuse someone who has risked 
everything to abide by his conscience
cowardice? Perhaps Aiken would also feel entitled 
to inform John Brown that he was a coward, or the 
Germans who attempted to assassinate Hitler?

Once this question is asked, another question 
inexorably follows: what qualifies as a situation 
that calls for action to be taken outside the 
established channels of the legal system, if not 
the current ecological crisis? Species are going 
extinct all over the planet, climate change is 
beginning to wreak serious havoc on human beings 
as well, and scientists are giving us a very 
short window of time to turn our act around­while 
the US government and its corporate puppeteers 
refuse to make even the insufficient changes 
called for by liberals. If the dystopian 
nightmare those scientists predict comes to pass, 
will the refugees of the future look back at this 
encounter between McGowan and Aiken and judge McGowan the coward?

We live in a democracy, Aiken and her kind 
insist: bypassing the established channels and 
breaking the law is akin to attacking freedom, 
community, and dialogue themselves. That’s the same thing they said in 1859.

Those who consider obeying the law more important 
than abiding by one’s conscience always try to 
frame themselves as the responsible ones, but the 
essence of that attitude is the desire to evade 
responsibility. Society, as represented­however 
badly­by its entrenched institutions, is 
responsible for decreeing right and wrong; all 
one must do is brainlessly comply, arguing for a 
change when the results are not to one’s taste 
but never stepping out of line. That is the creed 
of cowards, if anything is. At the hearing to 
determine whether the defendants should be 
sentenced as terrorists, Aiken acknowledged with 
frustration that she had no control over what the 
Bureau of Prisons would do with them regardless 
of her recommendations­but washed her hands of 
the matter and gave McGowan and others terrorism 
enhancements anyway. Doubtless, Aiken feels that 
whatever shortcomings the system has are not her 
responsibility, even if she participates in 
forcing them on others. She’s just doing her job.

That’s the Nuremberg defense. Regardless of what 
she thinks of McGowan’s actions or the Bureau of 
Prisons, Aiken is personally responsible for 
sending him to prison. She is responsible for 
separating him from his wife, for preventing him 
from continuing his work supporting survivors of 
domestic violence. If he is beaten or raped while 
in prison, it is the same as if Aiken beat or 
raped him. And not just McGowan, or Paul, or 
Sadie or Exile, but every single person Aiken has ever sent to prison.

But Aiken and her kind are responsible for a lot 
more than this. As the polar icecaps melt, 
rainforests are reduced to pulp, and climate 
change inflicts more and more terrible 
catastrophes around the planet, they are 
responsible for stopping all who would take 
direct action to avert these tragedies. They are 
responsible, in short, for forcing the wholesale 
destruction of the natural environment upon everyone else on earth.

Aiken might counter that the so-called democratic 
system is the most effective way to go about 
halting that destruction. It sure has worked so 
far, hasn’t it! On the contrary, it seems more 
likely that she cannot bring herself to honestly 
consider whether there could be a higher good 
than the maintenance of law and order. For people 
like her, obedience to the law is more precious 
than polar icecaps, rainforests, and cities like 
New Orleans. Any price is worth paying to avoid 
taking responsibility for their part in 
determining the fate of the planet. Talk about cowardice.

and Heroes

So­if McGowan and the other non-cooperating Green 
Scare defendants are not cowards, does that mean they are heroes?

We should be cautious not to unthinkingly adopt 
the inverse of Aiken’s judgment. In presenting 
the case for the government, Peifer described the 
Operation Backfire defendants’ exploits as 
“almost like Mission Impossible.” It serves the 
powers that be to present the defendants as 
superhuman­the more exceptional their deeds seem 
to be, the further out of reach such deeds will feel to everyone else.

Similarly, lionizing “heroes” can be a way for 
the rest of us to let ourselves off the hook: as 
we are obviously not heroes of their caliber, we 
need not hold ourselves up to the same standards 
of conduct. It is a disservice to glorify 
McGowan, Exile, Sadie, Peter Young, and others 
like them; in choosing anonymous action, they did 
not set out to be celebrated, but to privately do 
what they thought was necessary, just as all of 
us ought to. They are as normal as any of us­any 
normal person who takes responsibility for his or 
her actions is capable of tremendous things.

This is not to say we should all become 
arsonists. There are countless paths available to 
those who would take responsibility for 
themselves, and each person must choose the one 
that is most appropriate to his or her situation. 
Let the courage of the non-cooperating Green 
Scare defendants, who dared to act on their 
beliefs and refused to betray those convictions 
even when threatened with life in prison, serve 
as reminders of just how much normal people like us can accomplish.

Freedom Archives
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