activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Tag: entrapment

year-end wrap-up: updates on 2014 posts

NATO 3: On February 7, the jury in the NATO 3 trial acquitted the defendants of all the terrorism charges and the solicitation to commit arson charge. The jury found the defendants guilty of mob action, possession of an incendiary device with the intent to commit arson, and possession of an incendiary device with the knowledge that another intended to commit arson. On April 25, Brian Jacob Church was sentenced to five years, Brent Betterly to six years, and Jared Chase to eight years. Church is now in a halfway house.

Debbie Vincent: Following the conviction of SHAC activist Debbie Vincent in March, she was sentenced to six years in prison in April.

Robert Birgeneau: After Haverford students planned to protest former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who Haverford College invited to speak at commencement, Birgeneau backed out in May. Condoleezza Rice, who Rutgers University invited to speak at commencement, also backed out this year after students and faculty organized a campaign citing her role in the Iraq war. International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde, who Smith College invited to speak at commencement, backed out too after nearly 500 people signed an online petition.

Holly Nguyen and Maya Land: On September 8, Holly Nguyen and Maya Land, the two UC San Diego students who allegedly set fires to prevent a Starbucks from opening on campus, pled guilty to reckless endangerment. They were ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluations and spend 20 days in jail. They will also be on probation for 18 months and have to spend 30 days doing “public service.”

School of the Americas Watch vigil: Although Fort Benning officials and the Columbus police tried to shut down the 25th annual School of the Americas Watch Vigil in November, they backed down following a coordinated grassroots pressure campaign.

Food Not Bombs: After Ft. Lauderdale approved an ordinance outlawing most food sharings in public parks, people protested, tried to meet with city officialswere cited for giving out food, temporarily stopped eating, and crashed Ft. Lauderdale’s website. On December 2, the day after Anonymous crashed the city’s website, a judge in Florida issued a 30-day ban on enforcement of the ordinance.

Procter & Gamble protest: Initially charged with two felonies and facing up to nine and a half years in prison, most of the activists who protested against rainforest destruction at Procter & Gamble headquarters this past spring pled guilty to misdemeanor trespassing on December 12. They were sentenced to complete 80 hours of community service. (One of the activists accepted a previous pleas deal, and another, Tyler Wilkerson, passed away on October 6.)

November 2011 Occupy Cal lawsuit: On December 12, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers dismissed claims against several police officers and one UC Berkeley administrator in a lawsuit regarding excessive force during the November 2011 Occupy Cal protests. Claims against other officers and administrators, including former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, will proceed.

No-Tav: On December 29, the additional charges recently brought against three No-TAV activists currently in custody were dropped. This court decision followed disruption of rail services last week in many parts of Italy after an arson attack, blamed on protesters, on Bologna’s Santa Viola station. Four other activists facing similar charges were recently convicted and sentenced to prison terms of three years and six months each.

Christopher Wahmhoff: After spending approximately 10 hours inside an Enbridge oil pipeline in June 2013, Christopher Wahmhoff was convicted on December 16 of trespassing and resisting police. On December 29, Wahmhoff was sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to pay fines and costs of $908. Restitution has yet to be determined. According to one of the protesters outside the courthouse before Wahmhoff’s sentencing,

When the state convicts people who are protesting for the health of the community, … it’s betraying the community.

legal team for nato three to resume jury selection later this morning

The NATO 3, three incarcerated Occupy activists, were charged under the Illinois material support for terrorism statute on the eve of a large anti-NATO demonstration in Chicago in May 2012. The defendants allegedly filled four beer bottles with gasoline, acts apparently instigated by undercover police agents. On Monday, their legal team started picking the jury for their trial, which is expected to last approximately three weeks.

The case is one of several examples of a pattern of entrapment in which law enforcement authorities choreograph arrests of activists by employing informants or undercover officers. In Chicago, police spent approximately $1 million on equipment in the months before the demonstration. According to a Rolling Stone article quoting Kade Crockford, director of the Massachusetts ACLU’s technology for liberty program and the writer of the PrivacySOS blog,

Flush with fancy new equipment, police turn to communities they have long spied on and infiltrated: low-income and communities of color, and dissident communities.

If you’re in the Twin Cities, please consider attending a fundraiser for the NATO 3 on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.

three activists jailed since nato summit lose motion to dismiss terrorism charges

The NATO 3, three incarcerated Occupy activists, were charged last year under the Illinois material support for terrorism statute. The statute was passed in response to the events of September 11, 2001. Its vague language allowed police and prosecutors to impose terrorism charges on the defendants for political reasons.

Today Judge Thaddeus Wilson denied the defendants’ joint motion to dismiss the terrorism charges, which were used to portray activists as dangerous on the eve of a large anti-NATO demonstration in Chicago last May. According to the defendants’ motion filed in January,

The prosecution used the vague statutory definition of terrorism to paint the anti-NATO protesters as violent terrorists, to discredit their demonstration and discourage people from marching on Sunday, and to justify their vast expenditure on law enforcement. The defendants were just pawns in this political operation and as a result of this vague and open-ended statute now languish in jail under exorbitant bail facing the most serious of charges.

The motion describes most of the prosecution’s evidence as “the defendants’ idle chatter, laced with bravado, and … egged on by … under-cover police agents.” The agents instigated “the alleged creation of … four homemade beer bottles of gasoline” and apparently retained possession of the bottles. Sadly, this case is just one of several examples of a pattern of entrapment in which law enforcement authorities choreograph arrests of activists by employing informants or undercover officers.

pattern of entrapment by federal law enforcement continues unabated

Right in the nick of time, just like in the movies. The authorities couldn’t have more effectively made the Occupy movement look like a danger to the republic if they had scripted it. Maybe that’s because, more or less, they did.

That’s journalist Rick Perlstein’s take on the case of the Cleveland 5, who allegedly conspired to destroy a bridge with explosives this past spring. Like Bradley Crowder and David McKay, Eric McDavid, and now the NATO 3, the Cleveland defendants were apparently persuaded by agents provocateurs to think about breaking the law. The crimes about which they thought, however, never occurred.

But they still face charges, conveniently unsealed on May Day, of conspiracy and attempted use of explosives to damage property. They are scheduled to start trial on September 17.

The process of criminalizing dissent is facilitated in this fashion, by the construction of narratives that frame social justice activists as dangerous. The FBI continues to shape such narratives, consistently choreographing arrests of activists by employing informants or undercover officers to instigate illegal plans. Yet the federal government has sought to entrap violent white supremacists, the most significant domestic terrorism threat, much less often. Perlstein explains why:

The right-wing plots include the bombing of a 2011 Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane and the assassination of abortion doctor George Tiller in 2009. Neither of their perpetrators, it goes without saying, had been arrested before they attempted their vile acts; neither required law enforcement entrapment to conceive and carry them out. It’s just too bad for their victims they did not fit the story federal law enforcement seeks to tell.