• The Injustice of Forced Plea Deals
One of the current features of the U.S. war of terrorism ismaking false charges of terrorism against individuals and organizations to justify persecution of them. The charges also serve to generate fear concerning the possibility of “homegrown terrorists.” Indeed, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano recently said “homegrown” terrorism has become a greater threat. An atmosphere of fear and hysteria is repeatedly fostered, utilizing government-orchestrated cases, mass round-ups, jailing of those resisting, and more.
Literally all of the government cases involving so-called “terrorist” cells — like that of the Lackawanna 6 or more recently of the Newburgh 4 — involve government informants that instigate and fund the so-called “conspiracy.” Most of the cases do not involve any actual acts of terrorism or violence, while nearly all target Muslims. These cases serve to back up the government hysteria against Muslims and any who defend them, while justifying continuing aggression against Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The reality that the government uses terrorism charges to target and jail people guilty of no crime has become well known to all. So too is the ever-present threat that, as “terrorists,” those charged will be sent to Guantánamo and held indefinitely — unless of course they plead guilty. The Guantánamo threats are done before any trials and in fact to prevent trials from even occurring. There is not even a pretense of innocent until proven guilty. The criminal nature of Guantánamo itself, with its torture and indefinite detention of hundreds never charged, only serves to make the threats more real.
The Lackawanna Six faced such pressures. The young men involved for months refused to accept guilty pleas and withstood constant government demands to submit. Their case involved no acts of terrorism or violence and no plans for such acts existed and nor did the government even claim they existed. Their lawyers reported the threats of sending the Six to Guantánamo to supporters who denounced these attacks. Finally, while increasing the Guantánamo threat and isolating those involved from family and supporters while pressuring the lawyers to secure pleas, guilty pleas to lesser charges were secured. This was then used to “prove” that there was indeed a “terrorist” cell! As well, the agreement that those who accepted the pleas would not be forced to testify was quickly broken and repeated efforts made to force testimony in other cases. Most refused.
A more recent case involved the RNC8, eight youth arrested and initially charged with “terrorism” for organizing demonstrations at the Republican Nation Convention (RNC), in Minneapolis, in 2008. It will be remembered that there was massive police violence against demonstrators during the four-day convention. This included use of National Guard, repeated use of tear gas and pepper spray, attacking and arresting demonstrators peacefully protesting in public parks and so forth. These government crimes are to be accepted, while those organizing resistance are criminalized.
The RNC8 case also relied on a government informant and instigator. The youth involved were arrested even before the demonstrations took place. And while the “terrorism” charge was dropped, felony conspiracy charges were kept. For two years broad resistance was organized and the effort of the government to criminalize dissent and equate it with terrorism was denounced and opposed. This resistance continues, as seen in defense of the recent anti-war and pro-Palestine organizers targeted by the government in Minneapolis, Chicago and elsewhere.
For the RNC8, given the initial terrorism charges and continued efforts to impose felony “conspiracy” charges, it is possible that the Guantánamo threat was also used against these youth. Whether it was or not, what comes to the fore is the government pressures to force guilty pleas using government informants and threats of felony charges in a situation where it is the government committing crimes and those accused are defending rights.
The just struggle of the youth for their rights, including their rights to dissent and resist are to be applauded by all democratic-minded people. The crime is that of the government in suppressing this resistance. For the RNC8 part of this repression is the forced guilty pleas. Of the 8, charges were dropped for three, and five accepted guilty pleas to lesser charges.
It is also the case that while the guilty pleas accepted supposedly are “non-cooperating” — meaning those involved are not supposed to be made to testify against others — the government can still force testimony. This was done with the Lackawanna Six. It is being done with the Sami Al Arian case, where the government is demanding testimony before a grand jury and attempting to impose criminal contempt charges (see November 3 update). The reality is there is no such thing as “non-cooperating” as far as the government is concerned. It can and will require “cooperation” if it chooses, under threat of jail, additional charges, or being sent to Guantánamo.
There can be no illusions on these matters and no reliance on the government and its legal system when it comes to defending those attacked. Mass political mobilization putting defense of rights at the center is required. The threats and demands being by the government against those arrested or subpoenaed should be made public so as to engage all those defending rights to join the discussion and assist in opposing the government actions. Those targeted should not be left to be the sole decision-makers, as to do so makes them more vulnerable to these government pressures, not less. It is by standing as one with all those defending rights that these pressures can be resisted. Relying on and politically mobilizing support among the people, starting from the framework of affirming the rights of all enables those involved to be pro-active in pursuing the various cases and more generally in waging the fight for the people’s anti-war and pro-social agenda.
The Conclusion of the RNC 8 Case
More than two years after the 2008 Republican National Convention, it appears that the last legal and political defense work is finally reaching a conclusion. Two years of standing together, not always in agreement, but bound by our outrage against a state which systematically destroys our supposed rights. Two years of coming to understand that we are not exceptional and that these rights do not actually exist for anyone except the richest of the rich. Two years of standing and fighting together anyway, retaining our dignity and our strength in our own separate ways.
Earlier today (October 19, 2010), Max Specktor and Rob Czernik pled guilty to gross misdemeanor Conspiracy to Riot, and Garrett Fitzgerald and Nathanael Secor pled guilty to gross misdemeanor Conspiracy to Damage Property. These are all non-cooperating plea agreements; they will not be called upon to testify against anyone else. All of them received 100 hours of community service to be served over 10 months, no jail time or restitution, and a $200 fine. Max and Nathanael were sentenced to one year supervised probation; Garrett and Rob, two years. We recognize that the plea deal may come as a surprising development to supporters, especially considering that the prosecution originally branded the RNC 8 “terrorists” and was still committed to securing felony convictions for certain defendants only two weeks ago.
This is not a rallying cry or a desire to spin a victory from this development in the case. There is no value now in spin, no worth in declaring victory when the situation is more complicated. Rather, this is a moment for reflection upon all the tensions and trade-offs of these last years, and a call for renewed dedication to our highest ideals.
This reflection comes a day before Erik Oseland will turn himself in to serve the time to which he was sentenced when he accepted a plea agreement on August 27. We encourage everyone to support him by writing him letters:
You can find out more about how to support him by visiting http://supporterik.wordpress.com or emailing email@example.com. […]
The plea agreements that Erik, Max, Nathanael, Rob and Garrett have accepted are an indication of the realities of the judicial system and our limitations in fighting back against its repressive maneuvers. We regret that the RNC 8, while better positioned than most to fight against this tide, still succumbed to it. The RNC 8 never asked to be placed at the center of this issue, but worked to make the best of the legal battle that they were thrust into. The 8, even at the times of greatest solidarity, had differing analyses, backgrounds, and perspectives on their positions in (or outside of) movements for revolutionary change. They brought different privileges, needs, strengths, and weaknesses to the battle. Some may see this as a tension between the personal and political–that is, what is best for the movement might not be best for their life journeys. Others see themselves so tied to the revolutionary movement that the two are indistinguishable. The only certain truth is that there is not now nor has there ever been absolute agreement amongst the defendants in this case (or their supporters, for that matter).
There are several factors that contributed to how things ultimately played out in this case. Not everyone is in agreement on these factors, but there are clearly some tensions we can identify.
Amongst the defendants there was a tension between solidarity and autonomy. This tension is not unique to the RNC 8 case and, while there were breakdowns in the feelings of solidarity at times, there were also things gained when co-defendants stood together and when the broader movement came together to support them. While the defendants can’t claim full responsibility for the State dropping the charges against three of the eight, the majority of the defendants standing strong together certainly contributed to this outcome. But there were times when some of the co-defendants saw themselves as being in different positions based on numerous actual differences. Individual defendants’ relationships to the RNC Welcoming Committee, their relationship to the State’s evidence, and their differing political analyses and varying commitments to a trial made it even more difficult to navigate the already treacherous terrain with a sense of togetherness. In light of this, how can we ensure that an individual’s autonomy is secure while building the strongest base of solidarity possible? When is it appropriate for an individual to remove themselves from a group? For some of us, these are lingering questions.
Our experiences also lead us to ask: What is solidarity? How can we avoid “lip service solidarity” that covers up using the group to serve individual ends? How can we practice solidarity in a way that it supports both our revolutionary movement and the individual revolutionaries in our movement?
There were tensions pulling on the defendants from the outside as well. One of the most significant was the tension between political support and legal support. The political support around the RNC 8 case has been some of the most phenomenal in recent history. Part of this is because, with the hard work and at least small successes of the RNC Welcoming Committee, the RNC 8 seemed like the best anarchist pony in the race. Many, if not most of the 8 believed this case was going to go to trial. That is what the 8 and the Defense Committee told all of you, and part of the reason we received so much support was that people believed us. And many people dedicated a lot of their time and energy to making this political support as strong and effective as it has been. We are deeply sorry for those who feel deceived or as if their pony gave up the race.
There is another component, however, that is less visible – the legal support. The official stance of the United States judicial system is that all defendants have the right to trial and to have counsel represent them at trial. However, this is rarely the case. The use of trumped up charges, economic hardship, isolation of defendants, and fear are great tools used to bully and coerce defendants into plea deals. Part of what we have learned is that this coercion does not just come from the State. It is true that the State would rather folks take plea deals, but for many of the same reasons, defense lawyers also prefer them and work towards them. Lawyers at both tables are ultimately officers of the court. This situation creates a sort of Judicial-Industrial Complex, in which all the suits often have a vested interest in efficiency, expediency, and getting the most amount of money for the least amount of work.
Defense attorneys’ sacred mantra is to work in the best interests of their clients, but they usually perceive “best interests” in very different ways than their clients, especially political clients. When a client puts as much or more weight on the best interests of a revolutionary movement, or makes those revolutionary interests their own, lawyers whose home turf is the system against which their client struggles can have a difficult time understanding.
The court system is also well adept at isolating defendants, even when they receive vocal and active support outside the courtroom. Defense attorneys are able to leverage defendants’ need for lawyers and their specialized knowledge to separate the defendants from other people who care about them and the outcome of their cases. This is a sort of backward way for lawyers to grab power and attempt to control defendants who are positioned at the center of the political campaign. As such, our movement needs defense attorneys who can recognize this reality and use their skills and privileges not to work out the least painful resolution but to further the struggle in dismantling the system that forces these resolutions.
We have also learned that our movement needs people who are committed to retaining their own agency as defendants and to furthering their political goals through their legal battles. Defendants must be able to set firm boundaries with their legal defense teams, support each other through the legal proceedings, and listen to and hear the advice of their friends and closest political allies as they work to make the best decisions for the movement and themselves–even if these decisions are counter to the advice they received.
Between the defendants and others working on their case/campaign, there was also a tension between support and accountability. Those of us who are anarchists (and even some who are not) believe that, in decision making, the most weight should be given to the opinions of those who are most affected. In cases like this, it makes sense that the defendants be allowed to guide their own defense as best they are able. Affectedness, however, is a spectrum. One need not be the most affected to have a stake in a choice. If the case was more straightforward –say, the 8 were all charged with an actual act of property destruction – the political ramifications would not be as great and so political supporters (or the movement) would have less at stake. But, because this case has been about taking a stand and resisting the state’s ability to throw people in jail for thought crime, people beyond the defendants have something to lose. As the Defense Committee has been saying from the beginning, they are coming for the anarchists today; tomorrow it could be any of us.
Many of us draw a hard boundary on withdrawing support from snitches –folks who cooperate with the state to hurt their “friends.” (Luckily, this did not become a concern in this case.) Many of us have come to believe that there is also some gray area wherein we can ask and expect those whom we support to handle themselves with integrity and be mindful of the movement that stands behind them. This does not mean that support will be withdrawn or that defense committees get to make defendants’ choices for them. It simply means that it is legitimate for supporters to have thoughts and feelings about the campaign they are working on and to ask that those thoughts and feelings be heard. And it means that the defendants have the responsibility to be accountable to the people supporting them.
As the cases are being resolved, we are focused on being accountable to everyone who has supported the defendants and the work of the Defense Committee. Thank you for being there. Thank you for your donations, for your time spent in the kitchen at our community meals, for organizing and participating in rallies, fundraisers and other events. Thank you for continuing the fight around the issues that led us to resist the Republican National Convention in the first place, and thank you for raising the next generation of rebels and revolutionaries while keeping the struggle going. Thank you for standing not just with the RNC 8, but with all the RNC arrestees and with all targets of state repression. Thank you for remembering the St. Paul Principles – that despite our differences and misgivings, we are strongest when working together as one movement united for radical social change and determined to win.
Thank you for taking the high road, speaking up for true justice and liberation through the good times and the bad, demonstrating the world we will see rise from the ashes of the old. Thank you for the work you will continue to do against politics as usual, against the farce of the criminal injustice system, and against the police and prison industrial complex. And thank you for the work you will continue to do to take direct control over our lives, to fight for social and environmental justice, and to create organized dissent everywhere.
(For more information see RNC8.org)
The Committee To Stop FBI Repression is convening a national meeting in New York City on November 6th, 2010, at 6:30 pm. We want to invite all those interested in building the movement against FBI raids and the Grand Jury attempt to criminalize anti-war and international solidarity activists. We have done nothing wrong and we are speaking out and organizing to have the Grand Jury called off. We have a lot of work pressing upon us, and while the attack is bad, it offers our movement an opportunity to unite, strengthen, and grow!
On September 24th, the FBI raided two homes in Chicago, and five homes in Minneapolis, along with the Anti-War Committee office. Armed and threatening, the FBI turned people’s homes upside down and took their computers, cell phones, documents, newspapers, framed photos and children’s art work. All together fourteen anti-war and international solidarity activists in Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan were subpoenaed to appear before the Grand Jury.
The anti-war and civil liberties movements responded quickly and with great spirit. Over 60 cities protested, with a report from Springfield, MA, coming in just today. Activists passed out 12,000 fliers at the One Nation rally in Washington D.C. In Minneapolis, more than 500 rallied at the FBI offices in response to the repression. More than 1300 people marched in Chicago against war and repression on October 16th. The national call-in days are flooding the White House receptionists and shutting down Eric Holder’s answering service. The personal appeals targeting politicians and those with power are important. This is all great and leads us to NYC (looking for a space to hold 100 people in Manhattan) on November 6th to get more organized and congeal a leadership that will beat back this attack and others that are coming.
Here is an important update–each of the fourteen activists subpoenaed to appear signed a letter from the lawyers stating they would NOT testify. The Assistant U.S. Attorney, Brand Fox, told the lawyers he would withdraw the subpoenas, but he would say nothing more. SO THIS IS NOT OVER YET. The government is not likely to let go. The government has a number of options—more raids, arrests, new subpoenas, or offering immunity to some with the threat of jail if they do not speak. For the time being, the FBI continues to harass other anti-war activists at their homes and work places, trying to divide and intimidate. So we need you to remain vigilant, to help us organize, and to work towards a defense that continues to put U.S. war and occupation on trial.
Thank you, Tom Burke, for the Committee To Stop FBI Repression [TOP]
“They came for us in the morning and they will come for you in the afternoon” is expressed loud and clearly through the recent arrests of anti-war and pro-Palestinian activists in Chicago and Minneapolis late Friday afternoon September 24.
Histories of struggle remind us that they came for indigenous communities, we call that genocide; they went after the labor movement, we called that the Red Scare; they came for women of color and people with disabilities, we call that eugenics; they came for the Jews, we call that the Holocaust; they went after our movements and many of us call that CoIntelPro; they’re going after the undocumented, we call that the ICE Raids and SB1070, they’re going after Muslims, we call that the War on Terror; they’re going after political dissent, we call that the USA PATRIOT Act; and they’re still coming for Black people, we’ve come to call that Oscar Grant, Aiyana Jones, Kathyrn Johnson, Hurricane Katrina, the Prison Industrial Complex or simply deepening poverty and bloody Genocide.
Our politics must begin to assert that that if they take one, they take us all because when they take one, they intend to come for us all. We stand in solidarity with those recently arrested and the many more indefinitely detained on trumped up charges because we know fear moves down the line along predictable paths and eventually it shows up on one’s doorstep in the middle of the night. History is clear on this point.
The Alliance for Global Justice (AfGJ) condemns and urges all people of good will to protest the September 24, 2010, FBI raids on Minneapolis and Chicago activists. The raids and grand jury investigation are nothing less than an effort to criminalize solidarity efforts to promote peaceful and just solutions to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the half century civil war in Colombia.
The Alliance for Global Justice is particularly concerned about unconfirmed reports that AfGJ National Co-Coordinator James Jordan is among 22 people named in the search warrant for the Minneapolis anti-war office, meaning that his emails with them will be read. Jordan has done groundbreaking work in exposing the US Bureau of Prisons’ role in the construction and oversight of prisons in Colombia where conditions constitute nearly unimaginable human rights violations such as lack of sanitary facilities and access to potable water as little as ten minutes a day. Jordan has also been an international leader in the effort to expose the unjust incarceration and prosecution of Colombian labor leader Liliany Obando who was jailed on the eve of her release of a report documenting military and paramilitary assassinations and human rights violations against Colombia’s largest farmer/farmworker union, FENSUAGRO, which has had more members killed than any union in the world.
The grand jury “witch hunt” is reportedly looking for evidence that activists have violated the ban of “material support” for groups designated as “terrorist” by the United States government. The definition of material support was recently broadened recklessly by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Alliance for Global Justice sees the current persecution of Colombia and Palestine solidarity activists as the first step to criminalize actions in solidarity with governments and social movements which oppose US hegemony, economic policy, and militarism. We think this is an extremely dangerous attack on civil liberties by the Obama Administration and cannot be allowed to stand.
The Alliance for Global Justice does not, and has never, provided material support, even under the new definition promulgated by the Supreme Court, to any organization designated as a “terrorist organization” by the U.S. government. We do not, in fact, provide any support. We do support the rights of all peoples to self-determination and self-defense in their quest to build a peaceful and just society and world and a better life for themselves and their children.
We will not be intimidated or frightened away from working in solidarity with our sisters and brothers struggling against oppression anywhere in the world. We urge all our supporters to take action to oppose this latest assault on all of us who work peacefully for a better world. Please contact President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to demand an end to the FBI raids and to demand that the grand jury witch hunt be closed down immediately. Send messages as well to your Representative and Senators and let them know that their response will help determine how you vote in November.
On Friday September 24, a series of FBI raids were carried out throughout the United States. These raids targeted organizations with a clear anti-war, anti-imperialist, pro-peace position against U.S. foreign and domestic policy; a growing tendency of our time. We must be clear that this signals the coming of a more intense fascist state. It signals the coming of the persecution of organizations and individuals who oppose the current capitalist order.
Unión del Barrio condemns the raids and their purpose; which was to confuse, intimidate and instill fear in our community and in our movements. We reject that intimidation and terror.
We have seen, been victims, and have witnessed these types of attacks before. We have been face to face with this fascism and are keenly aware of its reach; we know what it is to have members of our families taken by federal agents in the middle of the night or early mornings; we are aware of the empire’s ability to suspend “constitutional, civil or democratic” rights; and we’ve seen the empire’s inhumanity, as it kills and maims people at the hands of its police-migra-military force against the non-white world. We are aware and assume our responsibility to struggle against it wherever it may appear.
Today the role, responsibility and duty of every revolutionary, progressive and those that call themselves leftists, must be to halt this drive to open fascism both within the political borders of the United States and abroad. As we listen and observe the UN General Assembly speeches and discussions, it becomes clear that the possibility of nuclear war, with clear colonial ambitions is becoming more pronounced. A war that if carried out, whether by Israel or the United States against Iran, will undoubtedly alter the very possibility of life on this planet.
Today, the need for workers/class unity is ever more clear. The need for a clearly anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist social movement for our basic rights depends upon us. We must be aware that the time to join the correct side of humanity, and leave behind the irrational, unsustainable, egocentric “American Dream,” is now! This “American Dream” has been, and continues to be a Human Rights nightmare the world over.
We invite, all who are willing to build a resistance to repression, war and occupation, to unite with the Manifesto of Caracas and build towards a continental day of action in your area on December 10th, International Human Rights Day; for Human Rights and Socialism, united we win!
Like other peace advocates, Veterans For Peace is appalled by the heavy-handed actions of the FBI in raiding the homes of anti-war activists. We would also be astonished by those actions were it not for the FBI’s long history of harassing peaceful dissent. From the disgraced leadership of J. Edgar Hoover down to these 2010 raids in Minneapolis and Chicago, the Bureau has allowed itself to become the dark agent of stifling democratic opposition to America’s embarrassing military adventures abroad and its resistance to inequality at home.
The idea that the victims of these home invasions are providing “material support of terrorism” by opposing brutal U.S. foreign occupations is ludicrous. It strikes at the very heart of the freedoms that VFP members thought they were donning the uniform to defend. For those of us who sought to protect democracy from alien forces it is particularly disheartening to watch that democracy now being eroded from within by our own government. Are we truly to believe that the FBI is all that stands between us and the terrorism of the Quakers, the Catholic Worker, Greenpeace, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals?
It is further more than a little ironic that these raids of harassment should occur only a week after the Justice Department Inspector General himself concluded that the FBI does indeed have a long sorry history of baseless intimidation of dissenters to American policy. Veterans For Peace members themselves were victims of these actions surrounding the infamous police violation of dissenter rights at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Republican Convention in 2008.
As veterans and as seekers of peace we stand in solidarity with our comrades in sister organizations who are victims of this sinister FBI action. Who knows who its next targets will be? Pressing our government to withdraw from aggressive and mindless wars should be viewed as heroic activity, not a hostile act subject to persecution.