activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Tag: earth first!

former inmate daniel mcgowan’s claims against the bureau of prisons dismissed

On November 9, 2006, Daniel McGowan pled guilty to conspiracy and arson charges, with the understanding that he wouldn’t implicate or identify anyone other than himself. After traveling from the East Coast to Oregon, McGowan had acted as a lookout for two Earth Liberation Front (ELF) arsons, including when activists burned down the offices of Superior Lumber. According to a 2006 Rolling Stone article,

Daniel McGowan, the sandy-haired son of a New York cop, hopped a train to the West Coast with a backpack of his things, hoping to find out what the green anarchists could teach him about changing the world. An earnest student of political theory, McGowan had been trained in nonviolent resistance by the Ruckus Society, and when he arrived in Eugene he volunteered to put together a page in Earth First! Journal to drum up support for political prisoners.

After pleading guilty in 2006, McGowan was sentenced to seven years in prison. McGowan was subsequently transferred from the general prison population to a highly-restrictive Communications Management Unit (CMU) in Marion, Illinois. On March 30, 2010, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of several plaintiffs, including McGowan, challenging policies and conditions at two CMUs, and the circumstances under which the CMUs were established. (Later in 2010, McGowan was transferred back into the general prison population, but in February 2011 he was transferred to the CMU in Terre Haute, Indiana.)

Today the court dismissed McGowan’s claims – that he was placed in CMUs in retaliation for protected First Amendment activity – because he was not subjected to physical harm. The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) says that no federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury. The other claims in the case, challenging broad due process violations at the CMUs, will proceed.


earth first! activist darryl cherney announces reward for information related to attempted assassination of judi bari

On May 24, 1990, Earth First! activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were driving through Oakland, California. They were on a tour to recruit college students for Redwood Summer, advertised as a nonviolent and family friendly campaign of marches, forest occupations, and rallies. A motion-triggered pipe bomb wrapped with nails then went off under Bari’s driver’s seat, putting both of them in the hospital with serious injuries. Bari was permanently disabled.

Instead of searching for the bomber, the FBI collaborated with the Oakland police in an attempt to make Bari and Cherney seem guilty of carrying explosives. Yet Bari had renounced tree spiking and neither Bari nor Cherney advocated bombings. The Oakland District Attorney and the U.S. Attorney’s Office later dropped the charges.

In 2002, after an 11-year court battle, a jury found that the FBI and Oakland police ignored the evidence and tried to frame the activists, awarding $4.4 million to Cherney and Bari’s estate. (Bari had died of breast cancer in 1997.) But the search for the assassin continues, as Leighton Woodhouse explains:

Now, 22 years after the attack, the case of who bombed Judy [sic] Bari is still unsolved, and Darryl Cherney is still looking for answers. Last week, Cherney, who is on tour with a new documentary film on the subject, announced a $50,000 reward “for information leading to the identification, arrest, prosecution and incarceration of the person or persons responsible for the attempted assassination of Judi Bari by placing a bomb under the seat of her car.”