[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 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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