[Ppnews] The Age of Conspiracy Charges

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jul 29 10:09:39 EDT 2010

The Age of Conspiracy Charges


Looking back over the past decade, it appears 
that North American law enforcement agencies are 
increasingly utilizing conspiracy charges to 
target anarchists and others involved in radical 
communities. We’ve composed 
review of recent conspiracy cases in hopes of analyzing this.

If conspiracy charges are becoming central to the 
state's strategy against anarchists, it is 
imperative that we develop a strategy of our own 
to respond to this and seize the initiative 
rather than simply reacting over and over to 
individual cases. This text is a humble effort in 
that direction, in hopes of inspiring more 
thoughtful reflections from our comrades.

Conspiracy charges are convenient for police and 
federal agents in that they do not require 
authorities to prove that any actual illegal 
activity took place, only shared intent. In that 
regard, they are an ideal weapon to wield against 
ideologically-based communities; they also lend 
themselves to 
agents’ efforts to entrap naïve activists.

are also signs that the authorities may be 
attempting to fabricate evidence for larger 
conspiracy cases on a national scale. It’s 
impossible to know whether these will ever pan 
out, but it’s certainly better to be prepared.

What can we do to respond to this strategy of 
repression? Here are some basic starting places:

1. Don’t let the state intimidate us out of confrontational public organizing.

The state targets public organizers like the 
<http://shac7.com/>SHAC 7 or the 
8 because they are effective. Public organizing 
groups have been essential in creating the 
necessary conditions for anarchists to determine 
the character of recent mobilizations such as 
those against the 
Republican National Convention and the G20 
summits of 
The same goes for local and ongoing campaigns.

Even when it is framed as a strategic choice, 
retreating from public organizing can only play 
into the hands of the authorities. Repression is 
intended to cause militants to back away from 
engaging with the public, losing connection with 
a broader social base and deepening the false 
dichotomy between passive “community organizing” 
and clandestine direct action. This is not to say 
everyone must organize publicly­on the contrary, 
one function of public organizing is to prepare a 
favorable ground for more generalized and 
anonymous actions­but that it is a necessary aspect of anarchist struggle.

2. Minimize our vulnerability to conspiracy charges.

There are many ways we can do this. Perhaps the 
most obvious is to 
appropriate security culture, sharing sensitive 
information on a need-to-know basis and doing our 
best to keep informants out of our circles. 
Security culture is not only for those who may be 
party to illegal activity; it is important for 
everyone connected to networks that the state is 
interested in mapping or disrupting. Some 
hypothesize that one of the reasons the 
authorities didn’t bring conspiracy charges 
against organizers of the 
G20 protests was that, in contrast to the RNC 
Welcoming Committee, individuals suspected of 
being police agents were not permitted into the 
coordinating group. The closer informants are to 
us, the easier it is for them to prepare cases of 
some kind, however fabricated.

Likewise, it’s important to keep an eye out for 
bounty hunters preying on naïve young activists. 
Often they prefer to target the least experienced 
or connected individuals in a social milieu 
instead of tangling with longtime militants. We 
can also inoculate ourselves against disruption 
by sorting out internal conflicts before they 
offer infiltrators or prosecutors opportunities 
to divide us against each other.

After so many conspiracy cases have been brought 
against anarchists, we should no longer be 
surprised by new ones. We need to be thinking in 
advance about how to respond to them; that means 
preparing legal support structures and bail funds 
even when we don’t have reason to believe we’re 
about to be targeted. It also means being 
intentional about how we conduct ourselves so we 
don’t make it easier for prosecutors to demonize 
us. In the words of grand jury resister 
<http://davenportgrandjury.wordpress.com/>Carrie Feldman,

Does whatever value I gained from wearing an 
shirt in high school outweigh the fact that it 
was later used to smear me in court and justify 
holding me in jail for four months? Mostly I just 
want to say, yeah, fuck’em. Bring it on. But I 
think the important thing is to always be 
weighing that, be aware of it. Be ready to own 
everything you say and do. Don’t just front or 
talk a militant line to sound cool. When you’re 
reading about it in your FBI file you’ll want to 
have said things worth standing by.

Whenever someone is targeted with a politically 
motivated conspiracy case, it’s important that we 
mobilize the very best legal defense we can. This 
means hiring good lawyers, not just accepting 
lazy and often outright backstabbing 
court-appointed defenders. Every conspiracy case 
against radicals sets a precedent for more of the 
same; defending one of us is literally defending 
all of us. Good lawyers serve two functions. 
First, they intimidate the state, which will be 
more likely to bargain or drop charges if it 
knows pressing them will be expensive and risky. 
Second, they can win cases or get them thrown 
out, as recently occurred in the case of the 
4. Raising the money to defend one person 
effectively can save a lot more money and heartache in the long run.

Public support campaigns are equally important. 
On one side, this means going public when you are 
targeted­both so you can receive support and so 
that repression will be brought into the 
spotlight. On the other, it means organizing 
long-term support for defendants, so they will 
feel invested in answering to the community and 
so the authorities will have to factor in public 
relations challenges when they consider whether 
to target us. Support campaigns can target the 
most vulnerable individuals in the power 
structure; the supporters of the 
8 did this by concentrating on county attorney 
Susan Gaertner, who was eventually forced to 
the terrorism charges against the defendants.

Finally, though this should go without saying, we 
can protect ourselves from conspiracy charges 
simply by not cooperating with the authorities. 
Of the cases detailed below, many of them would 
never have gotten off the ground if people had 
not been intimidated into making statements 
against their former comrades. Nobody talks, 
everybody walks­that goes for our whole community 
as well as specific groups of defendants.

Defendants who cooperate with the government 
never come out ahead. As detailed below and 
elsewhere, not only do they lose friends and 
community support, they rarely get significantly 
shorter sentences­and doing prison time is much harder as an informant.

3. Craft an effective narrative discrediting the 
state's use of conspiracy charges and circulate it to the general public.

If the authorities come to rely on pressing 
conspiracy charges against anarchists as a 
central strategy of repression, we must take 
advantage of the ways this makes them vulnerable. 
Many in our society­and not just radicals­are 
uncomfortable with the idea of people being 
persecuted for thought crime. We need to find 
ways to address people outside our social and 
political circles about the prevalence of 
conspiracy charges, so as to utilize this 
opportunity to discredit the state and 
delegitimize conspiracy-based cases. The broader 
the range of people who disapprove of this 
tactic, the more the hands of the authorities will be tied.

Most of this work has yet to be done. If you are 
concerned about government repression, consider 
the ways you can approach others outside radical communities about this issue.

When we talk about conspiracy charges and witch 
hunts, it’s important to emphasize that we’re 
talking about the state, which exists to carry 
out violent repression. As long as there are 
inequalities and injustices, there will be 
resistance, and those in power will attempt to 
repress it. If we take ourselves seriously as a 
revolutionary movement, we need to see ourselves 
in the larger context and histories of resistance 
movements and the repression they have faced; we 
would do well to learn both from the successes 
and the failures of the past. It’s also important 
to remember that repression is a daily fact of 
life for countless people in communities on the 
wrong end of power and privilege; anarchists are 
far from exceptional in this regard.

Appendix: An Incomplete Review of Recent Conspiracy Cases

This is hardly a comprehensive survey of 
conspiracy charges pressed against anarchists and 
other radicals in recent history. However, it 
does cover some of the landmark cases that 
created the current context, as well as ongoing 
cases that will set important precedents.

Altogether, this review encompasses charges 
pressed against nearly a hundred individuals. The 
cases themselves vary from fairly conventional 
uses of conspiracy charges to outright entrapment 
and examples that stretch the legal definition of 
conspiracy even by prosecutors’ standards.


<http://shac7.com/>The SHAC 7

In the early days of the 21st century, although 
several hearings before Congress had brought 
governmental pressure to bear against the animal 
liberation movement, efforts to quash direct 
action organizing by capturing and prosecuting 
participants proved fruitless. Finally, a New 
Jersey federal grand jury indicted seven 
individuals and the organization 
Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA on charges of 
animal enterprise terrorism under the 
<http://abolishtheaeta.org/web/>Animal Enterprise 
Protection Act on May 26, 2004. Charges of 
interstate stalking and conspiracy to use a 
telecommunications device to harass others were 
also included in the indictment. It has been said 
that the defendants were essentially targeted for 
running a website advocating direct action.

The SHAC 7 were convicted on March 2, 2006 under 
the AETA. Their conviction probably emboldened 
law enforcement agencies to utilize conspiracy 
charges to target radicals nationwide, especially 
in cases in which simple criminal charges could 
not be pressed convincingly or did not appear to offer enough of a deterrent.

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_Coronado>Rod Coronado

On December 2, 2004, federal prosecutors indicted 
Rod Coronado on conspiracy charges related to a 
local environmental group interfering with 
mountain lion hunting in Sabino Canyon in March 
2003. The indictment came just seven days before 
Coronado was to stand trial for three lesser 
misdemeanor charges filed after his arrest in 
Sabino Canyon on March 26. The new charge carried 
a maximum penalty of six years in prison.

Coronado faced this among many other charges in a 
concerted campaign of harassment across several 
years. On December 13, 2005, he and codefendant 
Matthew Crozier were found guilty of felony 
conspiracy to interfere with or injure a 
government official, misdemeanor interference 
with or injury to a forest officer, and 
misdemeanor depredation of government property. 
Coronado was sentenced on August 6, 2006 to eight 
months in prison, three years supervised 
probation, and fined $100. Crozier was sentenced 
to 100 hours community service, three years probation, and a $1000 fine.


<http://www.crimethinc.com/texts/atoz/greenscared.php>Operation Backfire

In December 2005 and January 2006, with 
assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, 
Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the FBI indicted 
six women and seven men on a total of 65 charges, 
including arson, conspiracy, use of destructive 
devices, and destruction of an energy facility. 
The defendants were named as Joseph Dibee (still 
at large), Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, Sarah Kendall 
Harvey (née Kendall Tankersley), 
<http://www.supportdaniel.org/>Daniel McGowan, 
Stanislas Meyerhoff, Josephine Overaker (still at 
large), <http://www.supportjonathan.org/>Jonathan 
Paul, Rebecca Rubin (still at large), Suzanne 
Savoie, Justin Solondz (currently 
custody in China), 
Thurston, Kevin Tubbs, and 
<http://www.supportbriana.org/>Briana Waters (not 
charged with conspiracy). A number of other 
unindicted co-conspirators were also named, 
including Jacob Ferguson, Jen Kolar, and Lacey 
Philabaum, all of whom joined Meyerhoff, Gerlach, 
Harvey, Savoie, Tubbs, and Thurston in accepting 
plea deals in return for informing to the 
government. Another alleged co-conspirator, 
William Rodgers, committed suicide while in 
police custody. Nathan Block and Joyanna Zacher 
were added in a superseding indictment in June 2006.


<http://supporteric.org/>Eric McDavid

In January 2006, as a result of a separate 
investigation but widely reported as an extension 
of Operation Backfire, three more 
individuals­Eric McDavid, Zachary Jenson, and 
Lauren Weiner­were arrested in Auburn, California 
for conspiring to damage facilities “by explosive 
or fire.” Jenson and Weiner took cooperating plea 
bargains, selling out McDavid, who was convicted 
on all counts September 27, 2007 and was 
sentenced in May 2008 to nearly 20 years in prison.

The McDavid case is notable because of the role 
of a paid informant, “Anna,” who essentially 
entrapped the defendants by utilizing money and 
flirtation to lure them into discussions about 
illegal activity. It subsequently received 
in Elle magazine among other venues.

<http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2007/06/360368.shtml>Sadie and Exile

Nathan Fraser Block, aka “Exile,” and Joyanna 
Lynn Zacher, aka “Sadie,” were arrested in 
February 2006 in Olympia, Washington in 
connection to the Jefferson Poplar Farm fire 
which occurred in 2001 in Clatskanie, Oregon.

In November 2006, Joyanna Zacher and Nathan Block 
each pled to one count of conspiracy, attempted 
arson, plus multiple arson charges from actions 
at the Joe Romania Chevrolet car dealership in 
Eugene and the Jefferson Poplar tree farm, as 
part of a global resolution agreement with 
prosecutors in the Operation Backfire case. 
Daniel McGowan and Jonathan Paul entered plea 
deals in the same hearing, resolving all the 
outstanding Operation Backfire cases. All four 
defendants refused to assist in government 
investigations of other activists. It is worth 
noting that, compared to the cooperating 
defendants in the Backfire case (see chart, as a 
the non-cooperating defendants received proportionately shorter sentences.


<http://www.freethesf8.org/>The San Francisco 8

Eight Black community activists, including former 
Black Panthers, were arrested January 23, 2007 on 
charges related to the 1971 killing of a San 
Francisco police officer. Similar charges were 
thrown out after it was revealed that police had 
used torture to extract confessions when some of 
the same men were arrested in New Orleans in 1973.

Richard Brown, Richard O'Neal, Ray Boudreaux, and 
Hank Jones were arrested in California. Francisco 
Torres was arrested in Queens, New York. Harold 
Taylor was arrested in Florida. Herman Bell and 
Jalil Muntaqim­had already been held as political 
prisoners for over 30 years in New York State 
prisons. The men were charged with the murder of 
Sgt. John Young and conspiracy encompassing 
numerous acts between 1968 and 1973. Bail amounts 
were originally set between three and five million dollars each.

Herman Bell and Jalil Muntaqim were sentenced to 
probation and time served, after Bell agreed to 
plead to voluntary manslaughter and Muntaqim to 
conspiracy to voluntary manslaughter. All charges 
were then dropped against Brown, Jones, Taylor, 
and Boudreaux, with the prosecution admitting it 
had “insufficient evidence” against them. Charges 
had already been dropped against O'Neal in 2008.

Francisco Torres is the last one still facing 
charges; he maintains his innocence and will appear in court on September 17.


<http://supportmariemason.org/>Marie Mason

In March 2008, Marie Mason, Frank Ambrose, Aren 
Burthwick, and Stephanie Lynne Fultz were 
and charged with conspiracy to commit arson; 
Mason and Ambrose faced additional charges 
related to acts of property destruction that 
occurred in 1999 and 2000. It came out that 
Ambrose, Mason’s ex-husband, had been assisting 
the FBI extensively in investigating 
environmental organizing since 2007; despite 
this, his plea bargain resulted in a 
year sentence, two years more than the prosecutor 
had requested. Burthwick and Fultz also 
negotiated cooperating deals with the Justice 
Department, agreeing to help in the investigation 
of Mason. Mason was threatened with a life 
sentence before 
a plea bargain in September 2008, in which she 
also admitted involvement in 12 other acts 
totaling more than $2.5 million of property damage.

Mason was  sentenced on February 5, 2009 in 
federal court in Lansing, Michigan. She received 
almost 22 years, the longest sentence of any 
Scare prisoner. The sentence is currently being appealed.


Bryan Rivera, aka Bryan Lefey, was arrested July 
2008 on charges relating to a July 2000 Earth 
Liberation Front action at the U.S. Forest 
Service Facility in Rhinelander, WI, where 
genetic research was being conducted on trees.

Katherine Christianson was originally named as a 
co-conspirator. Government informant 
Wallace, who was cooperating in investigations 
into other ELF actions, got involved and named 
Aaron Ellringer and Daniel McGowan as additional 
co-conspirators. Christianson and Ellringer 
eventually became government informants. All were 
convicted; Ellringer received four days, 
Christianson 2 years, Lefey 3 years, Wallace 3 
years for this and related actions.

Green Scare prisoner 
<http://www.supportdaniel.org/>Daniel McGowan, 
already serving a 7 year sentence, had also been 
involved in the Rhinelander action, but was not 
prosecuted federally for it as stipulated in his 
2006 non-cooperating plea agreement. McGowan 
steadfastly refused to cooperate in the 
Rhinelander investigation, and in summer 2008 his 
federal sentence was suspended for a brief time 
while he was held in civil contempt for refusing 
to testify before a grand jury about the action.

<http://rnc8.org/>The RNC 8

In what was the first use of criminal charges 
under the 2002 Minnesota version of the Federal 
Patriot Act, Ramsey County prosecutors charged 
eight alleged organizers of protests against the 
Republican National Convention with Conspiracy to 
Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism. The 8 faced up 
to seven and a half years in prison under the 
terrorism enhancement associated with the charge, 
which allows for a 50% increase in the maximum 
penalty. They later received more 
charges­conspiracy to commit property damage, 
conspiracy to commit property damage in 
furtherance of terrorism, conspiracy to riot, and the original charge.

In early April 2009, 
attorney Susan Gaertner dropped the charges of 
Conspiracy to Commit Riot in Furtherance of 
Terrorism and Conspiracy to Commit Criminal 
Damage to Property in Furtherance of Terrorism. 
This occurred shortly after one of the defendants 
appeared on MSNBC and petitions to drop all the 
charges were delivered to Gaertner’s office, 
including a resolution from the 17,000-member 
Duluth Central Labor Body in support of the RNC 8.

The terrorism charges were dropped as a direct 
result of a political pressure campaign against 
Gaertner, who had pressed the charges and was 
running for governor at the time. After protests 
at all of her campaign events and various other 
disruptions, Gaertner’s name became synonymous 
with the RNC 8 to such an extent that eventually 
she had to adopt “The courage to do the right 
thing even when it is politically unpopular” as a 
campaign slogan. When Gaertner dropped the 
terrorism charges, she explained to a local paper 
that the terrorism charges would be “distracting” 
and “a disaster at trial.” This was not enough to 
save her campaign; she later dropped out of the governor’s race entirely.

Significantly, no conspiracy charges were filed 
against organizers of protests against the 
G20 summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This 
seems to indicate that the support campaign for 
the RNC 8 was successful enough to discourage the 
state from attempting the same strategy, although 
it was surely caused by factors in Pittsburgh as 
well. The latter may include the willingness of 
the organizing group to exclude suspicious 
individuals and hesitance on the part of local 
officials to go after well-connected activists.

The other two conspiracy charges remain pending 
against the RNC 8. The trial will begin on October 25, 2010.


<http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/aeta-arrests/1070/>AETA 4

On February 19 and 20, 2009, the Joint Terrorism 
Task Force of the FBI arrested 
<http://aeta4.org/>Joseph Buddenberg, Maryam 
Khajavi, Nathan Pope, and Adriana Stump; they 
were charged with conspiracy to violate the 
Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act for protest 
activity relating to home demonstrations in which 
they wrote on a sidewalk with chalk, among other things.

A judge dismissed the case “without prejudice” in 
July 2010 on the grounds that the government 
didn’t give enough specifics on the alleged criminal activity:

In order for an indictment to fulfill its 
constitutional purposes, it must allege facts 
that sufficiently inform each defendant of what 
it is that he or she is alleged to have done that 
constitutes a crime. This is particularly 
important where the species of behavior in 
question spans a wide spectrum from criminal 
conduct to constitutionally protected political 
protest. While ‘true threats’ enjoy no First 
Amendment protection, picketing and political 
protest are at the very core of what is protected by the First Amendment.

Because the case was dismissed without prejudice, 
the government can re-indict the defendants; it 
is unclear whether this will occur.

<http://www.mostlyeverything.net/>Hugh and Tiga

Gina “Tiga” Wertz and Hugh Farrell were arrested 
on April 24, 2009 by Indiana state authorities 
and charged with multiple counts of intimidation, 
conversion, and corrupt business influence, a 
felony racketeering charge, for their involvement 
in protests against I-69. The felony racketeering 
charge was later dismissed. Both pled July 2010 
to misdemeanor charges and received 15 months probation.

<http://www.supportkevin.org>Kevin Olliff

Kevin Olliff was arrested in April 2009 on state 
charges for protest-related activity against UCLA 
vivisectors three years earlier; he faced 10 
felony charges including multiple counts of 
stalking, conspiracy, conspiracy to stalk, and 
threatening of a public servant. Olliff did not 
make bail and stayed in jail for almost a year 
before he pled to six of the ten felony counts 
against him in March 2010 in a non-cooperating plea agreement.

<http://davenportgrandjury.wordpress.com/>Carrie Feldman and Scott DeMuth

Carrie Feldman was subpoenaed to a federal grand 
jury in Davenport, Iowa in October 2009. She read 
a statement of non-cooperation and pled the 5th 
Amendment, and was re-subpoenaed for November. 
Scott DeMuth was subpoenaed to appear with her, 
and the two were both jailed for civil contempt 
on account of refusing to answer questions.

Scott DeMuth was indicted for conspiracy to 
violate the AETA days later, and was released 
pending trial; Feldman was jailed for four 
months, during which time her case received 
public attention. She was eventually released 
because “her testimony is no longer needed.” 
DeMuth’s trial is scheduled to begin September 13, 2010.


<http://asheville11defense.com/>The Asheville 11

Eleven people were arrested on May 1, 2010 in 
Asheville, NC, accused of doing $20,000 worth of 
damage to downtown businesses. Each was charged 
with 3 felonies (felony riot, felony conspiracy 
to riot, felony damage to property) and 10 
misdemeanors (one was charged with 11). Initially 
set at $10,000, bail was ratcheted up to $65,000 
apiece as the authorities implemented 
anti-anarchist scare tactics in the media and 
court system. Their trial dates have yet to be set.

<http://www.counterpunch.org/gelderloos07072010.html>Toronto G20

Sixteen people were arrested and charged with 
conspiracy on account of the protests against the 
summit in Toronto, Canada. Although this is 
occurring in Canada, the Canadian government is 
clearly hoping to utilize the conspiracy model 
pioneered in the SHAC 7 and RNC 8 cases to 
terrorize dissidents involved in laying the 
framework for the most intense protests Ontario 
has seen thus far this century. As of now, little 
information is available about the Toronto G20 
charges; the government is not releasing any 
information, and lawyers appear to be advising 
the defendants to proceed extremely carefully.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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