[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>
Re-posted from: 

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 
“no comment”?

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 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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