activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Tag: earth liberation front

prosecutors allege two students set fires to try to prevent a starbucks from opening on campus

Two University of California San Diego (UCSD) students, Holly Nguyen and Maya Land, have been charged with arson for allegedly setting fires to prevent a final vote that would have allowed a Starbucks coffee shop to open on campus. Nguyen and Land have pled not guilty. According to this morning’s KFMB article,

Prosecutors allege that the two undergrads, who were captured on surveillance video entering the Price Center on the UCSD campus shortly before the fires were set in two separate restrooms, were part of the ‘Earth Liberation Front’ or ELF, the collective name for individuals or factions that resort to “eco-terrorism” to stop, in their view, the exploitation of the environment. … The attorney for Maya Land told CBS News 8 unequivocally that her client is not affiliated with the Earth Liberation Front, and claimed that Land did not even know what ELF was.

Starbucks apparently violated the university’s fair trade policy, making the proposal to open one controversial. Yet the Starbucks was ultimately approved. No one was injured by the fires.

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federal bureau of investigation will use billboards to find daniel andreas san diego

Animal rights activist Daniel Andreas San Diego was allegedly involved in politically-motivated bombings in 2003, targeting two Bay Area corporations because of their ties to the animal-testing company Huntingdon Life Sciences. The bombings didn’t harm anyone. Yet on April 21, 2009, the FBI placed San Diego on its list of most-wanted terrorists.

Having failed to locate San Diego for more than 10 years, the FBI announced yesterday that his image will appear on electronic billboards throughout the U.S. for a week. Although San Diego was indicted in July 2004, he should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. According to a Los Angeles Times article from October 2003,

Rod Coronado, a spokesman for the radical animal rights group Animal Liberation Front and the radical environmental group Earth Liberation Front, said he could understand the frustration that might lead activists to bomb businesses associated with Huntingdon. But he did not believe that San Diego had committed the crimes.

breaking: green scare defendant rebecca rubin sentenced to five years in prison

In the name of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), Rebecca Rubin liberated horses and helped burn down several facilities, including a ski resort in Vail, Colorado. The largest roundup of radical environmentalists in U.S. history subsequently began in December 2005, but Rubin and three others facing charges remained at large. In November 2012, Rubin finally surrendered to U.S. authorities at the Canadian border.

In October 2013, Rubin pled guilty to arson and conspiracy charges. She refused, however, to turn over the names of other people who were involved in the actions she took. This afternoon U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken sentenced Rubin to five years in prison and 200 hours of community service, declining to impose the two and a half year terrorism enhancement sought by the prosecution.

To discredit activists and justify repression, people label politically-motivated property destruction as terrorism. Yet any meaningful definition of terrorism must require an intentional use of physical violence directed against innocent people for ideological, political, or economic purposes. Rubin and other radical environmentalists involved in similar actions have been careful to avoid harming anyone, and in fact prevented others – at least temporarily – from harming animals and the natural world.

Unfortunately this has not prevented judges, including Judge Aiken, from imposing terrorism enhancements in the cases of Tre Arrow, Nathan Block, Marie Mason, Eric McDavid, Daniel McGowan, Briana Waters, and Joyanna Zacher.

green scare defendant rebecca rubin pleads guilty to arson and conspiracy charges

Today Rebecca Rubin pled guilty to arson and conspiracy charges, but refused to turn over the names of other people who were involved in the actions she took in the name of the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front. She will serve at least five years in prison, with the exact amount of time to be decided by U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken at Rubin’s sentencing on January 27, 2014. The prosecution is apparently seeking a terrorism enhancement, which could mean an upward departure in Rubin’s sentence.

Rubin’s plea agreement was reached after many months of argument and discussion between Rubin’s attorney and the Assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case. Plea bargaining now plays the central role in securing convictions and determining sentences in the U.S. criminal legal system. According to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Lafler v. Cooper (2012),

criminal justice today is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials. Ninety-seven percent of federal convictions and ninety-four percent of state convictions are the result of guilty pleas.

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.

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.

leslie james pickering to sue the government for refusing to release records

An attorney representing Leslie James Pickering is preparing to file a lawsuit against the Department of Justice and the U.S. Postal Service for their failure to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. After filing FOIA requests in mid-September and appealing the government’s failure to respond, Pickering will soon be following in the footsteps of Marie Mason’s attorney, Susan Tipograph. Tipograph filed a similar lawsuit on February 25, seeking access to documents related to Mason.

Pickering was a founder of and spokesperson for the North American Earth Liberation Front Press Office, edited the Press Office’s journal, and has written two books. He lives in Buffalo, New York. The bookstore he co-owns produced two short videos on FOIA requests and provides sample requests and appeals.

green scare fugitive rebecca rubin surrenders

Operation Backfire was a federal task force that investigated 20 politically-motivated arsons, committed by about the same number of activists, in five Western states between 1996 and 2001. The investigation fizzled out until one of the activists, heroin addict Jake Ferguson, became a government informant in 2003. This led to the largest roundup of radical environmentalists in U.S. history, beginning in December 2005; but four of those facing charges remained at large.

Yesterday Rebecca Rubin, one of the four, surrendered to U.S. authorities at the Canadian border. Rubin faces arson and conspiracy charges in Oregon, California, and Colorado for liberating horses and helping burn down several facilities, including a ski resort in Vail, Colorado, in the name of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). According to a 2006 Rolling Stone article, “Vail was about to add almost 1,000 acres of new skiing terrain and twelve miles of roads in the last known habitat of the mountain lynx.”

As Matt Rasmussen wrote in an early 2007 Orion Magazine article about these activists, “history is full of social upheavals in which true believers decided the cause was so great that they would step beyond the boundaries of law.” Thankfully the people involved in these actions were careful to avoid harming anyone, and in fact prevented others – at least temporarily – from harming animals and the natural world. Rasmussen concluded as follows:

When I consider the ELF arsonists, I find myself thinking of the militant nineteenth-century abolitionist John Brown. … Over the course of decades, what was first considered lunacy and extremism came to be regarded as courage and righteousness. Years from now, when we have a clearer understanding of the full damage we have done to the Earth, is it possible the ELF arsonists will be remembered in similar fashion?