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I go round and round with this story, and don’t know what to make of it.
In the past few weeks, about a dozen activists in San Diego and Los Angeles have been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury. Grand juries are rather scary gatherings in which the person who testifies has very few rights and can go from “witness” to “suspect” at the drop of hat. Your basic options at a grand jury hearing are “answer the question” or “go to jail.” It can quite clearly work as a form of intimidation, of “rat on everyone you know, or we’ll throw you in prison.”
This San Diego version all seems centered around a speech given by radical environmental and animal rights activist Rod Coronado in Hillcrest in 2003. It seems that all of the subpoenaed attended this lecture, and that’s it. As far as I know, Coronado isn’t wanted for any crimes (although he has served time for past arrests) and is not in hiding. So I really don’t know what the FBI is up to here.
But I’ve got some theories.
One that I’m hearing a lot is that this is an attempt by the FBI to undermine the local activist community. No matter their intent, their actions are accomplishing this goal to some extent (although there has also been some unity in rallying to defend the subponaed). I’m not sure why the FBI would be going after the SD activist community, apart from their usual opposition to citizens trying to control their government.
The most reasonable explanation seems to be FBI incompetence and desperation. The day before Coronado gave his speech, the Environment Liberation Front (ELF) torched an apartment complex under construction in the wealthy San Diego neighborhood of La Jolla (no one was hurt). As I understand it, law enforcement has absolutely no leads on who committed that crime or where to find them. And given their lack of any leads, they say “hey, maybe if we randomly interrogate people who went to a radical environmentalist’s speech, we might find somebody who knows somebody who can give us a hint.” On Law & Order, they call that a “fishing expedition”.
But in addition to that, the federal government has an overly keen interest in such radical groups as the ELF or ALF (Animal Liberation Front); although they never hurt individuals, they can cause significant financial damage to business-owners. And government is often very responsive to the concerns of business. The FBI actually says that these groups are the “top domestic terrorism issue”. Terrorism? I thought terrorism was about mass murder and fear, not arson and stealing lab animals. Due to this misplaced focus on ELF and ALF (hey FBI, how about keeping an eye on the guys going down to the border with guns saying how much they hate immigrants?), I think it’s just as likely that this is a fishing expedition trying to get info on these groups in general more than it is about this one particular fire.
But this interview (.mp3) with subpoeanaee (and rasd compadre) Michael Cardenas points out another possibility. Shortly before these subpoeanas were issued, the Justice Department released a report saying that the FBI in San Diego had 5 chances to stop the 9/11 hijackers. Cardenas floats the idea that to distract from a report about their own catastrophic errors, that they decided to start throwing out subpoenas, to make it look like they were making progress in another case.
This article has information about how you can help fight back against this fishing expedition/witch hunt ridiculousness. I’ll reprint those tips here:
Monday, June 27th there is a community forum on the grand jury at 7pm at the First Church of the Bretheren, 3850 Westgate Place, San Diego CA 92105. A number of those who have been subpoenaed and/or have already testified will also be there to talk about their experience and the politics surrounding these proceedings. There will be several attorneys there talking about the grand jury process and a number of long-time activists who will share their stories about how grand juries have been used in the past to break social movements.
The 28th will be the first big day. We need to get a lot of people at the federal building to show support for those subpoenaed and to show our outrage at this attack and the growing repressive atmosphere in this country. Bring signs and yourself.
You can do (4) four things right now!!!
1) We are calling on people to call their politicians to pressure them to inquire about this fishing expedition and about how the patriot act and the grand jury are being abused. Ask why is due process being thrown out the window and why the FBI cant do a regular investigation that
doesn’t violate peoples civil liberties? Similar pressure stopped a similar grand jury in Iowa in its tracks recently. A few of those people are:
Rep. Bob Filner (619)422-5963
Sen. Boxer (619) 239-3884
Sen. Feinstein (619) 231-9712
Donna Frye (619) 236-6616
City council: http://www.sandiego.gov/citycouncil/
firstname.lastname@example.org, (858) 565-1255
2) Give the media hell for every bad, hysterical article they write about this case!!! Also write letters to the editor in support of the San Diego activist community etc.
3) Donate to the defense of those who have been subpoenaed. The organic collective is accepting donations for their defense which could be a long and ugly process. Those who plead the 5th and refuse to cooperate with this illegitimate process can be sentence to jail for the duration of the grand jury process (18 months, plus possible 6 months extension). People will also be missing work in order to appear in court. Online donations can be made at www.organiccollective.org or alternate arrangements can be made be emailing Rich at email@example.com or Marisa (the partner of subpoenaed activists Rob “Ruckus” Middaugh) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4) Talk with every person you know about this case and the increasingly repressive climate that we find ourselves living in in America 2005.
I’ll try to keep y’all posted on this, but you’ll probably have more luck by keeping an eye on the San Diego Independent Media Center website.
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