activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Category: government investigations of activists

australian activist responsible for fake press release unlikely to spend time in jail

In January 2013, Jonathan Moylan issued a fake press release stating that ANZ bank had withdrawn $1.2 billion in financing from Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek mine. Moylan copied the bank’s logo, used a communications spokesperson’s name, changed his voicemail, and set up a new email address for the prank. Various media outlets ran the story before it was confirmed as a hoax.

Moylan, who had six prior convictions related to environmental protests, pled guilty in May 2014 to disseminating false information to the market. He faced up to 10 years in prison, but the prosecution recently said it would not press for any jail time. According to a June 12 Guardian article, the Front Line Action on Coal camp continues to protest the Maules Creek mine, even though corporate spies apparently infiltrated the camp over the past several months:

The suspected spies spent time with the group, gaining their trust and learning the secrets of the community that is spearheading the resistance. … Many of the community face daily roadblocks, car searches and stops by police as they continue to take action against the winter clearing of the forest. But the activists have no plans to stop.

bolotnaya square protester receives amnesty

For protesting against Putin two years ago, activist Polina Strongina was charged in May with participating in mass riots. Local authorities, however, recently gave her amnesty. According to a St. Petersburg Times article,

Strongina, who became the first St Petersburg activist accused in the politically motivated Bolotnaya case over the alleged mass riots at an anti-Putin protest on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow on May 6, 2012, received an amnesty certificate on Saturday, June 28. … Apart from Strongina, two Moscow activists were charged in relation to the Bolotnaya case in Moscow in late May. One of them, Oleg Melnikov, was amnestied on June 25 but the other, Dmitry Ishevsky, who was charged both with participating in mass riots and using violence against the police, has been taken into custody.

Strongina did not provide investigators with the names of any organizers or people at the protest. She first became involved in activism in 2008, after her father’s arm was broken at a Dissenters’ March. The Dissenters’ March was a campaign of mass protests in large Russian cities.

united kingdom’s top criminal court overturns convictions of twenty-nine climate change activists

In June 2008, climate change activists ambushed a freight train carrying coal to Europe’s largest coal-fired power station, Drax. An undercover Metropolitan police officer, Mark Kennedy, played a role in the protest. According to today’s Guardian article,

… the train was stopped by two men posing as Network Rail staff, wearing orange jackets and hard hats, who held up a red flag. Moments later, the train and a nearby bridge were scaled by the protesters wearing white paper boiler suits and carrying banners. The protest lasted 16 hours, causing delays to numerous freight and passenger services and the clean-up operation cost Network Rail nearly £37,000.

Today the United Kingdom’s top criminal court overturned the 29 activists’ convictions, because the prosecution failed to disclose Kennedy’s involvement and related evidence during the trial. This is the third case in the past few years in which charges have been dropped, or convictions overturned, because Kennedy’s involvement and related evidence was suppressed. Kennedy spent seven years infiltrating left-wing protest groups, traveling to 11 countries on 40 occasions, and slept with at least three female activists.

activists confess to breaking into federal bureau of investigation office more than forty years ago

On March 8, 1971, eight activists broke into a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) office in Media, Pennsylvania. They stole files regarding the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), a secret war on dissent involving surveillance, infiltration, snitch-jacketingintimidationfabrication of correspondence and publications, disinformation, false arrest and prosecution, and assassination. According to today’s Alabama Public Radio article,

The plotters executed their break-in on a night when millions of people sat glued to their TV sets, watching Muhammad Ali square off against Joe Frazier for the heavyweight championship of the world. … Not long after the burglary, reporter Betty Medsger received an anonymous package at her desk at the Washington Post: secret documents. She published the story.

The activists called themselves the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI. In the FBI’s wide-ranging investigation of the burglary, agents visited one of the eight activists, but he successfully deflected their inquiries. The FBI never determined who was involved.

Today Medsger, the former Washington Post reporter, released a book titled The Burglary, in which several of the activists admit their participation in the break-in.

year-end wrap-up: updates on 2013 posts

Natan Blanc: After petitions and demonstrations, Natan Blanc was released in June, after spending six months in jail for refusing to be inducted into the Israel Defense Forces.

Food Not Bombs: Although state health officials in New Mexico threatened in June to seek a court order to stop Food Not Bombs from serving free meals without a permit, Keith McHenry reports that “the state never returned and the meals continue without incident.”

Uriel Alberto: After beginning a hunger strike in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Charlotte on July 4, to protest his deportation, Uriel Alberto was approved within two weeks for a one-year stay of removal.

California Prisoner Hunger Strike: Following legislators’ announcement that they would hold joint public hearings on the conditions in California prisons that led to another prisoner hunger strike in July, hunger strikers suspended the strike in September, 60 days after it began.

Washington Ballot Initiative: The GE labeling initiative in Washington, which would have required retail food products and seed stocks that had been genetically engineered to be labeled, was defeated by a small margin in November. Corporations spent $22 million, more than in any prior campaign in the state’s history, to defeat the initiative. Monsanto was the largest single contributor. According to a Grist blog post by Nathanael Johnson, the money made a difference, just like it did in a similar attempt to pass a labeling bill in California last year:

In each case the labeling bills started out with big leads. In each case those leads shrank as the food industry and agribusiness paid for massive amounts of advertising. The moral of the story seems to be that money really can change the outcome of elections.

Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff: On November 6, Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff had their second pretrial conference. Lang accepted a plea deal and was released. Olliff attempted to accept a plea deal, but the judge rejected it; so he remains in Woodford County Jail. He was in court again today in front of a different judge.

Jeremy Hammond: On November 15, anarchist hacker Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 10 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. In response to the sentence, WikiLeaks released all of the remaining Stratfor files.

Reverend Billy and Nehemiah Luckett: At a court hearing on December 9, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office reduced the charges against Reverend Billy and Nehemiah Luckett, dropping the more serious charges and reducing the remaining offenses to misdemeanor criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, and unlawful assembly.

Kimberly Rivera: On December 12, Iraq war resister Kimberly Rivera was released early for good behavior and performing extra work. She had been scheduled for release in early January 2014.

Jerry Koch: On December 20, attorneys for Jerry Koch filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge John Keenan to release the 24-year-old philosophy student, because Koch has shown he has no intention of cooperating with the grand jury to which he’s been subpoenaed.

Pussy Riot: On December 23, the two women from Pussy Riot nearing the end of their two-year prison terms were released under a new amnesty law. The law was also expected to bring about the release of many people arrested after an anti-government demonstration in May, and close the cases of the 28 Greenpeace activists and 2 journalists arrested in the Arctic Sea in September while occupying an oil rig to call attention to the threat of oil drilling and climate change. According to a December 19 New York Times editorial,

In pardoning these prisoners, Mr. Putin gave no indication that they may have been wrongfully tried and imprisoned, nor that more people will not be treated similarly in the future.

federal appeals court upholds contempt judgment against brooklyn anarchist jerry koch

Jerry Koch was jailed in May for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury. The grand jury is apparently investigating the explosion of a homemade bomb at an armed-forces recruitment center in the middle of the night in Times Square in 2008, which caused no injuries. Koch is not a suspect, but he was subpoenaed as a witness and granted immunity, meaning he can be jailed for refusing to testify. According to an April 28 New York Times article about the case,

Defense lawyers are not present during grand jury proceedings, which operate secretly and are controlled by prosecutors. After hearing testimony, jurors are asked to determine whether there is enough evidence to return an indictment. Witnesses who are held in contempt after refusing to testify may be jailed until the completion of a grand jury term, often months.

Yesterday a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the contempt judgment against Koch. The panel wrote that the grand jury was investigating a serious crime and the government “has made a convincing showing of its need to ask the questions at issue.” Although the government convinced the appeals court that it has credible evidence that Koch may have information about the crime, Koch has said he does not remember the conversation he allegedly heard in which someone mentioned knowing who was involved in the incident.


new report on human rights violations during turkey’s response to gezi park protests

In late May, police used tear gas, pepper spray, and water cannons in an attempt to break up demonstrations in Gezi Park, one of the last green spaces in central Istanbul, Turkey. Early one morning, police also set fire to the tents of protesters occupying the park. The number of protesters then increased significantly due to public outrage regarding the force used by police.

Mass protests spread to several other cities. On June 1, a police officer shot Ethem Sarısülük in the head with a live bullet during protests in Ankara. On June 3, 22-year-old Abdullah Cömert was apparently hit with a tear gas canister fired by police. The same day, 19-year-old Ismail Korkmaz was running away from police intervention at a protest in Eskişehir when he was brutally beaten by people in civilian clothes.

Cömert died on June 4. Sarısülük died on June 14. Korkmaz died on July 10, and five individuals (including one police officer) were subsequently charged with his murder.

By mid-June, hundreds of thousands of people had participated in ‘Gezi Park protests,’ which occurred in nearly every one of Turkey’s 81 provinces. Large scale protest continued across Turkey into early July. By July 10, more than 8,000 injuries had occurred at the protests.

Yet the repression isn’t over. Many of the people accused of organizing the protests are currently being investigated under anti-terrorism laws and related provisions. According to a report released this week by Amnesty International,

These provisions, which carry harsh penalties, are often used to prosecute critics of the state for conduct and the expression of views protected by the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. All the indicators available so far point to similar abusive use of anti-terrorism provisions in the context of Gezi Park protests.

federal bureau of investigation still attempting to solve politically-motivated arsons

On August 1, 2003, an unfinished 206-unit condominium complex in San Diego, California, was the site of an Earth Liberation Front (ELF) arson. People had protested against the complex because it constituted expansion into a sensitive coastal canyon area. No one was injured by the fire, but the FBI is apparently still trying to identify who set it, perhaps because it caused $50 million in damage. According to yesterday’s San Diego Union-Tribune article,

These days, much of that investigation centers around the same network of activists, as agents interview and reinterview them year after year hoping something within has changed — an ideology, a relationship, a moral tug. … Maybe a fresh eyewitness detail. Or maybe an activist with a change of heart.

After the fire, Rod Coronado flew to San Diego to speak at a previously scheduled event sponsored by Compassion for Farm Animals, a group that advocated veganism. Coronado was never a suspect in the fire, but an undercover San Diego Police Department detective attended the event and took notes. In Coronado’s speech, he explained how the incendiary devices he used to firebomb an animal research laboratory at Michigan State University (MSU) in 1992 were made. (In March 1995, Coronado had pled guilty to one count of arson at MSU, for which he spent five years in prison.)

Seven weeks after the condominium arson and Coronado’s speech, the ELF destroyed four unfinished homes and damaged two others in San Diego. The August and September fires were accompanied by similar ELF banners and occurred at roughly the same time of day. The method and location of ignition also tied the fires together. The FBI has yet to identify who set the September fires and, as with the August fire, is still attempting to do so.

Two and a half years later, in February 2006, Coronado was charged for his August 2003 speech under an obscure antiterrorism statute, which made it illegal to demonstrate how to make a destructive device with the intent that someone would commit arson. He took the case to trial in September 2007. The jury hung eleven to one in favor of acquittal, as the jurors could not reach an agreement as to whether Coronado could have believed his speech would result in imminent action.

Yet prosecutors threatened to pursue other charges against Coronado. For example, they threatened to charge him for a similar speech he gave in Washington, D.C. in 2003. To avoid such charges, Coronado accepted a plea deal involving one year and one day in prison. He surrendered to federal custody on May 9, 2008.

undercover police officer co-wrote leaflet that harmed reputation of mcdonald’s

In the mid-1980s, activists with London Greenpeace (unrelated to Greenpeace) began handing out a leaflet critical of McDonald’s. The corporation hired private investigators to infiltrate the group and sued five activists over the leaflet in 1990. Three of the activists apologized but two took the case to trial, which turned out to be the longest civil trial in English history. The judge ruled that the activists failed to prove all the allegations in the leaflet, but according to today’s Guardian article,

It was a hollow victory for the company; the long-running trial had exposed damaging stories about its business and the quality of the food it was selling to millions of customers around the world. The legal action, taking advantage of Britain’s much-criticised libel laws, was seen as a heavy handed and intimidating way of crushing criticism.

The story resurfaced today because a new book, to be published next week, will reveal the role of an undercover police officer in co-writing the leaflet at issue. The undercover officer, Bob Lambert, posed as an animal rights activist in the 1980s. Like several other undercover officers in the UK between the mid-1980s and 2010, he apparently deceived women into developing long-term sexual relationships with him.

Though already married with two children, Lambert fathered a child with one of the women before disappearing in 1989. The woman didn’t discover he was an undercover officer until last year. She is now one of 11 women who are suing for the trauma they suffered after having intimate relationships with undercover officers.

On a related note, Greenpeace Canada promised yesterday that it wouldn’t be intimidated by a $7 million defamation lawsuit filed by Canada’s largest logging company, Resolute Forest Products. The lawsuit echoes previous lawsuits against activists, such as the McDonald’s lawsuit, TransCanada’s $5 million lawsuit, and EDF Energy’s £5 million lawsuit. One of the 21 environmental activists EDF sued writes that although Resolute thinks the lawsuit will silence Greenpeace, it won’t work.

food not bombs co-founder cited by health officials for serving free meals without a permit

Keith McHenry helped start Food Not Bombs (FNB) in Massachusetts in 1980. He helped start the second chapter, in California, in 1988. In the early 1990s, dozens of FNB chapters throughout the U.S. regularly served free food in public. According to Chris Dixon’s introduction to Chris Crass’s new book, Towards Collective Liberation,

… FNB (then as now) functioned as a form of gateway activism for tens of thousands of mostly young people. Through FNB, countless activists have learned about economic inequality and the role of the state in preserving it, and have experienced their own power to take direct action and create alternative institutions.

How does the state preserve economic inequality? In New Mexico, state health officials have apparently threatened to seek a court order to stop McHenry from serving free meals without a permit. McHenry was issued a notice of violation last Saturday.

Though FNB hasn’t encountered many legal difficulties in Taos, New Mexico, McHenry has been jailed for his involvement in FNB chapters in San Francisco and Orlando. In response to this recent threat, he said he’ll continue serving free vegan meals every week, as he has around the country for 33 years.