[Ppnews] The USA vs. Leslie James Pickering
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Apr 4 10:26:04 EDT 2013
*The USA vs. Leslie James Pickering*
by Geoff Kelly
Issue v12n14 (04/04/2013) <http://artvoice.com/issues/v12n14>
Last August, Leslie James Pickering received unsettling news from an old
acquaintance he’d known in Portland, Oregon, where both had lived in the
1990s. Pickering’s friend, now living in the Southwest, had received a
phone call from two men who identified themselves as agents in the FBI’s
Buffalo field office.
The agents asked Pickering’s friend about his character—what she thought
of him as a person. Was he capable of influencing or even manipulating
people? They asked her about Pickering’s activities in Portland, where
Pickering and a partner, Craig Rosebraugh, were founders of the North
American Earth Liberation Front Press Office. NAELFPO received and
disseminated to the media anonymously delivered communiques from Earth
Liberation Front, or ELF, a radical environmentalist group that was, at
the time, waging a campaign of property destruction against corporations
they considered to be exploiting and destroying the planet’s ecosystems.
Though he was never a member of ELF, Pickering was a sympathizer and had
been a participant in demonstrations against the same kind of activities
and institutions that ELF targeted.
The FBI agents asked Pickering’s friend if he might have been involved
in purported ELF activities in Pennsylvania in the late 1990s and early
2000s. By that time, Pickering had resigned from NAELFPO and returned to
Western New York, where he was raised.
The agents asked her to steer them toward others who knew Pickering and
maybe didn’t like him very much. Is he a loner? An extremist? It seemed,
she told Pickering, as if they were creating a personality profile, and
trying to figure out what he might be up to today.
What Pickering is up to today is not a mystery. Currently, Pickering is
co-owner of Burning Books, a shop on Connecticut Street in Buffalo,
where the shelves are filled with histories of radical movements in the
US and elsewhere, and stocked with periodicals tracking ongoing human
and animal rights campaigns. The store has become a popular stop for
activists and authors on lecture tours of the country, and frequently
hosts screenings of social justice documentaries and workshops for
aspiring activists. (Upcoming events, for example, include a talk by
Scott Crow, a founder of the Common Ground Collective, which provided
relief to victims of Hurrican Katrina, and himself the target of a
decade-long federal investigation, as well as a talk by Rachel
Wolkenstein, attorney for Mumia Abu Jamal.) Pickering also writes books:
He wrote a biography of Vietnam-era revolutionary Sam Melville, who died
in the 1971 Attica uprising, as well as a history of ELF’s activities in
the Pacific Northwest; he is the editor of an account of the RNC 8,
activists charged as terrorists for planning to protest the 2008
Republican National Convention. He gives talks about his books and about
his experience as a press liaison for ELF. He is rasing a family on
Buffalo’s West Side.
When Pickering learned of the FBI’s phone call to his old friend, he
contacted /Artvoice /and asked what we thought he should do. We, in
turn, called the FBI’s Buffalo field office to ascertain if the men were
indeed FBI agents. None of the four messages we left were returned. This
seemed unusual to me: In my experience with the field offices in Buffalo
and Pittsburgh, FBI press officers have been quick and even cheerful
about returning my calls, perhaps because the FBI’s policy is not to
comment on much of anything: They will not comment on ongoing
investigations, and will not acknowledge whether an investigation even
exists. What harm in fielding questions if the response is almost always
So, in collaboration with Pickering and his attorney, Michael Kuzma, we
prepared to file a request under Freedom of Information Act for all
materials the US Department of Justice had related to Leslie James
Pickering, to see if some current investigation was underway.
As we were preparing the request, Pickering discovered a curious piece
of paper in his mailbox: a handwritten note indicating that, between
August 16 and September 14, 2012, the outsides of all first-class
letters and parcels sent to his address were to be held and copied
before they were delivered. This is called a “mail cover”; it’s a method
for federal investigators to track who is corresponding with the subject
of an investigation.
Pickering wasn’t sure if the note had been left accidentally or on
purpose; if on purpose, he couldn’t decide if someone was giving him a
heads-up or deliberately making him feel nervous.
So we decided to send a FOIA request to the US Postal Service, too,
asking for the same thing: all records on file related to Leslie James
Both these FOIA requests were filed in mid-September. Six months later,
neither has been satisfied. After acknowledging receipt of the requests,
both the DOJ and the USPS have been silent. Appeals of their failure to
respond have been ignored so far, too.
Pickering is accustomed to paying a price for his association with
radical activities, particularly his affiliation with ELF, several of
members of which eventually went to jail. (Pickering was interviewed for
the 2011 Oscar-nominated film about ELF, /If a Tree Falls/, which
describes the rise and dissolution of the group.) He and his family
cannot cross the border to Canada, for example, because his name is on a
federal watch list.
The call to his former acquaintance and the mail cover seemed
different—a renewed and heightened interest in his current activities
that borders on harassment. Last month, Pickering took his family to
California for vacation. On the flights there and back, he was taken
aside by airport security for additional questioning and inspection.
But wait, there’s more.
Kuzma, who is preparing to file a lawsuit to compel the DOJ and the USPS
to respond to the FOIA requests, recently learned the the Western
District office of the US Attorney, based in Buffalo, has issued at
least one subpoena for records related to Pickering.
What gives? Is Pickering being investigated? How many associates has the
FBI interviewed? How many subpoena has the US Attorney issued? And why?
It has been 11 years since Pickering stopped relaying communiques for
ELF, and the federal government has never disproved what he has always
maintained: that he was ELF’s press liaison, not a participant in its
“The power structure doesn’t like the fact that Burning Books is
educating people and getting them to think critically. They have a
vested interest in keeping the masses uninformed and disengaged,” says
Kuzma, who will offer an account of Pickering’s ordeal at a benefit
event scheduled for Wednesday, April 10, 6-8pm, at the First Amendment
Club, 93 Bridgeman Street. The event will raise money to play the filing
fees for the lawsuit challenging DOJ and USPS.
A more appropriately named venue could not have been chosen for this
fundraiser, Kuzma says.
“The activities of Burning Books are fully protected by the First
Amendment as well as Article One, Section Eight of the New York State
Constitution,” says Kuzma. “Under the Privacy Act of 1974, federal
agencies are prohibited from maintaining records describing how any
individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.”
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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