[Ppnews] Earth Liberation Front Activist Released After 7 Years in 'Little Guantanamo'
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Dec 19 11:09:44 EST 2012
Earth Liberation Front Activist Released After 7 Years in 'Little
Posted: 12/17/2012 2:32 pm
Daniel McGowan is not a household name. Even among people who have
devoted years of their lives fighting to protect the natural world from
the predations of capitalism, his role in the history of the
environmental movement is marginal and obscure.
It shouldn't be. McGowan's story tells us too much about the desperate
situation we're in -- politically as well as ecologically -- to be
dismissed as a sideshow in the struggle to curb the excesses of human
consumption before they destroy us.
Outside of radical circles, McGowan's story is best known from its
telling in last year's Oscar-nominated documentary "If A Tree Falls."
<http://www.ifatreefallsfilm.com/film.html> McGowan was one of a dozen
underground environmental and animal rights activists with the Earth
Liberation Front and its sister movement, the Animal Liberation Front,
who were swept up in a two year, multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional
investigation called 'Operation Backfire,' which culminated in a series
of high-profile arrests and prosecutions at the end of 2005 and
beginning of 2006. (Two weeks ago, Rebecca Rubin, one of the three
remaining fugitives in the investigation, turned herself in
at the U.S.-Canada border.) The activists were charged with committing a
series of arsons and other property crimes against numerous targets that
they deemed to be agents of environmental destruction and animal
exploitation, including U.S. Forest Service ranger stations, a horse
slaughterhouse, a dairy farm, lumber company facilities, SUV
dealerships, wild horse corrals, a university horticultural research
center, a meat company, and, most famously, the Vail Ski Resort.
Though none of the crimes targeted people nor resulted in human death or
injury, the Justice Department wasted little time in publicly declaring
the arrestees "terrorists." At a 2006 press conference announcing the
defendants' indictments, FBI Director Robert Mueller referred to
perpetrators of environmental and animal rights-related crimes as one of
the agency's "highest domestic terrorism priorities."
Congress passed legislation
<http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/109/s3880/text> later that year
specifically singling out animal rights activists for enhanced criminal
penalties, classifying property crimes against industries that exploit
animals and even, in some contexts, First Amendment activities
directed at agents of those industries, as "terrorism." No such special
legislation has ever been passed to selectively brand white
supremacists, anti-abortion extremists, anti-immigrant vigilantes and
right-wing militias -- all of which
have targeted, injured and killed humans -- as terrorists.
In an interview with the /Eugene Weekly/ in 2007, David Iglesias, the
former federal prosecutor for New Mexico who was terminated by Attorney
General Alberto Gonzales in the 2006 U.S. Attorney firing scandal,
called the terrorism charges "political" and "overreaching." "It seems
to me what happened here should not fit my traditional definition of
what terrorism is," Iglesias explained.
McGowan was detained in two different prisons, both of them belonging to
a category of new experimental facilities called "Communications
Management Units," or CMUs (he also spent a brief period of his
incarceration in general population). CMUs were built to contain
low-level terrorists rounded up in the War on Terror; most of their
inmates are alleged to be connected to Islamic networks. They are
designed to severely restrict and control the amount and nature of
prisoners' communications with the outside world, earning them the
nickname among inmates and prison staff of "Little Guantanamo,"
according to journalist Will Potter. For several years, their existence
was kept secret. There are only two CMUs in the United States, in
Illinois and Indiana; McGowan served time in both.
Last week, after seven years in federal prison, McGowan was released.
For the next six months, he will be living in a halfway house in New
York City, and then be under supervised release for three years before
he is finally free from the terms of his sentence.
It's easy to ignore McGowan's story, to write it off as a criminal
psychodrama a world away from the mainstream currents of today's
environmental movement. At the time when McGowan's ELF cell was still
operational, many advocacy groups were subjected to enormous pressure
to make that chasm as wide as possible, or risk being marginalized
themselves. To help discredit the political content of their crimes,
prosecutors, politicians, law enforcement officers and the media have
demonized ELF and ALF activists as terrorists, sociopaths, ordinary
criminals hiding behind an ideology or, at best, naïve kids with overly
romantic notions of what it means to fight for a cause.
A more disinterested, less agenda-driven observer, however, might
recognize the near inevitability of the ELF movement's dialectical
emergence out of a prevailing political culture that has stubbornly
refused to even begin to address some of the most dire and vexing
problems facing every living thing on the planet. When mainstream
political institutions fail to rise to the scale and urgency of epochal
crises like global warming, deforestation or massive species extinction
-- in some cases, even failing to acknowledge their reality -- among
those who understand what's at stake, there will be some who are driven
to desperate acts.
The ELF and ALF could never be the solution to the problems they point
to, but neither are they merely incidental to them: radical movements
tend to be harbingers of the struggles to come when ossified political
systems bury their heads in the sand instead of measuring up to the
profound challenges they face and to their own internal contradictions.
Rather than vilify McGowan as a terrorist or mythologize him as a martyr
for the earth, we should consider his story for what it tells us about a
civilization so blind to its circumstances that it provokes individuals
to engage in extreme political acts and risk serving years in Little
Guantanamos in order to do /something/ to stem an unfolding catastrophe.
/Leighton blogs at Dog Park Media. <http://www.dogparkmedia.com/magazine/>/
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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