“I never once considered co-operation and never would. It is against everything I believe in. On my right arm I have a tattoo reading ‘strive to survive causing least suffering possible.’ This is something I live by every single day and will continue to live by whether I am in a cage or not.” Leah Lynn-Plante was referring to the cage should would be locked in at the Federal Detention Center Sea Tac in Seattle.
On October 11th, Plante had been remanded to a federal prison for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury investigation. In grand jury investigations the accused Fifth Amendment right to remain silent is null. Plante had been subpoenaed to testify about political activists in the region, a group federal investigators have identified as “anarchists”. Salon reporter Natasha Lennard, wrote in July that the federal grand jury subpoenas were issued by the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force. The two agencies were investigating “violent crime” that occurred at Seattle’s May Day protests. Although it is believed that the investigations pertain to “property damage” related to May Day. The FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force conducted raids of activists homes and squats in Olympia, Seattle and Portland after receiving no-knock warrants. As Lennard reported, the searches targeted computers, black clothing, phones and “anarchist literature”.
Plante’s incarceration follows a disturbing trend of federal agencies jailing political activists. Jared Chase, Brent Betterly and Brian Jacob Church, three of thousands of activists who attended the Anti-NATO protests in Chicago on May 19th were arrested and are now facing charges relating to terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism and possession of explosives.
“The individuals we charged are not peaceful protesters, they are domestic terrorists,” Attorney General Anita Alvarez said of the defendants. Officials of the Chicago Police Department began investigating the three “self-described anarchists” in early May. According to prosecutors the defendants had plans to construct a pipe bomb, possessed three Molotov cocktails and had plans to purchase assault rifles. Prosecutors say they found maps listing escape routes throughout the city for a planned attack on police stations. But the defendants lawyers are circumspect.
The National Lawyers Guild voiced their concerns that the arrest was a ploy to intimidate protesters, and send a chilling message to activists as if to say these are the consequences for demonstrating: arrest, grand jury testimony, federal prison. The lawyers guild considered the arrests a case of entrapment and stated that the plans were the work of an informant while the materials for the explosives were provided by an undercover agent.
In a statement to the Tribune, Occupy Chicago activist Natalie Wahlberg said, “The charges are utterly ridiculous. CPD [Chicago police department] doesn’t know the difference between home beer-making supplies and Molotov cocktails.” The defendants lawyer said the “bomb materials” were part of a brewing kit.
The climate of intimidation and fear resonates across the country. Law enforcement agencies have a vast repertoire of counterterrorism instruments at their disposal. Surveillance devices, datamining technologies and legal tools that have been critical for identifying foreign terrorists and uncovering their plots are now being routinely utilized against “domestic terrorists” like Plante, Chase, abetterly and Church.
As early as 2002 massive surveillance campaigns, were being conducted on American citizens involved in peaceful protests. An ACLU investigation revealed the extent to which the Denver Police cooperated with other local police departments, the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force to build 3,200 files on 209 protesters. Members of Amnesty International, Quaker Organizations and individual activists were horrified to discover that personal information including their names, addresses, telephone numbers, vehicle registrations in addition to descriptions of what they were doing at a series of protests had been added to the “spy files,” the name given to the files the police held on activists.Denver Mayor Wellington Web who sided with civil rights organizations in the aftermath stated he was unaware of his police department’s activities. This is an “overly broad interpretation of established policies for intelligence gathering and the reporting on organizations that do not pose a threat,” Weber stated at a press release.
Nearly a decade after the spy files scandal, eleven years after Bush declared war against terrorists and a year and half since Bin Laden was killed America continues to wage a war on terrorism. The dynamics of that war are different today. The enemy’s face is increasingly that of a U.S citizen. While drone strikes, special ops teams and foreign intelligence agencies are still hunting the phantom al-quedaDirector, another war is being waged from within national borders.
Robert S. Mueller III of the F.B.I., offers a profile of the war on terrorism’s internal targets. “Our highest domestic terrorism priorities” are catching and prosecuting “those who commit crime and terrorism in the name of animal rights or environmental issues.” The intelligence agencies have also expended countless resources to investigate what the FBI calls “black separatists” in a 2011 domestic terrorism training course.
Leah Lynn-Plante was incarcerated for her refusal to inform the federal grand jury about the activities of the Northwest activists, political activists who have been labeled by intelligence agencies black separatists. Daniel McGowan, the Earth Liberation Front activist sentenced to 7 years in federal prison on arson and conspiracy charges also highlights the FBI’s domestic priorities. Their incarcerations like the three activists jailed in Chicago demonstrates the kind of people intelligence agencies are targeting. Author and journalist Will Potter spoke about who the FBI’s practices in an interview with The Dissenter’s Kevin Gosztola : “the history of the FBI—Its existence has been about targeting. We see from the top levels of government the targeting of the environmental rights movement, targeting anarchists as terrorists, surveillance of the Occupy Wall Street movement.”
What “domestic terrorists” targeted by America’s intelligence agencies have in common is that they are political activists. They have rallied for social justice, shut down traffic, camped out in public and in extreme cases damaged property. Criminalizing political activists for challenging the structures of authority and power is a tactic commonly used in politically repressive states. From the domestic spying programs to the secret judicial procedures of the federal grand jury, political activists in America are discovering that they are not only dissenters but terrorists.