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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: U.S. | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism | Police State and Prisons
Affidavit confirms FBI monitored Portland activists traveling to Seattle
Within the last two weeks, three Portland, OR activists and two Olympia, WA were jailed at the Sea-Tac Federal Detention Center for refusing to testify before a grand jury convened in Seattle.
The purpose of the grand jury was never clear - there had been some indication that federal officials were investigating a vandalism incident where two windows of the federal courthouse were broken in Seattle during a may day protest (for which four people were already tried and sentenced), however, there was evidence that a grand jury was convened before May to broadly investigate the animal rights movement. A newly released affidavit confirms that the Seattle may day protest was an incident of focus, and also releases unsettling information that the FBI was already focusing on these individuals, monitoring their travel patterns that day, and tapping their cell phone texts.
One of the incarcerated individuals was released two days ago http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2012/10/19/grand-jury-refuser-leah-lynn-plante-released-from-federal-prison http://freeleah.tumblr.com/post/33896448680/official-leah-has-been-released
At the time of an initial raid on the house of Matt Duran and Leah Plante, and the serving of grand jury summons, it was not quite clear what crime was motivating the whole process. There was partial evidence that the prosecutors were interested in a may day march in Seattle. Most of the participants in that march were peaceful, but there were flareups of vandalism that greatly embarrassed the local police department - a group decided to break out the windows of Niketown as they passed by (reminiscent of a similar event a decade earlier at the major WTO protest in 1999), and later when the group went by the Federal courthouse, a couple of individuals started to throw things and break windows
The security and the local police were particularly embarrassed because a comic superhero fan named Phoenix Jones, who has a local following for his 'performance art' hobby of dressing up as a crime fighter, was more effective at verbally shooing away vandals.
Several people, including one with schizophrenia, have been sentenced for this incident.
The connection of the Portland activists with Seattle was somewhat dubious. One of the activists is a prominent animal rights advocate, and people have noted the fact that the grand jury was formed two months before May to conclude that the underlying purpose may be to broadly sweep the radical community, particularly people with animal rights focus in their political activities. Portland had its own large May day march, and the summoned individuals supposedly weren't even in Seattle.
The most alarming information from this newly released affidavit is the indication that the FBI had already been monitoring the set of activists, before the May day incident occurred. Did they have warrants to track their travel and text messages real time? How widespread is this across the rest of the community?
I have heard that at least two of the activists were the ones who staffed a table with activist literature and radical flyers at Portland's Last Thursday art walk, which thousands attend every month. If so, this means I have probably chatted with them multiple times. Last Thursday largely has craft booths, and just a handful of activist tables. The fact that their table gets so much exposure is a reason to believe that staff from police agencies, lacking any contacts in the activist community, could have decided that this set of anarchists would be a good inroads for gaining information on the rest of the Portland anarchist circles.
SEATTLE — Early on the morning of July 25, residents of a neighborhood in northeast Portland, Ore., were awakened by the sound of a battering ram plowing through the front door of a small house. Inside, the sleepy young occupants stumbled out of bed as FBI agents rushed in with assault rifles.
Leah-Lynn Plante, a thin, tattooed woman who volunteers at a bookstore that specializes in anarchist literature, shivered in her underwear in the backyard as a SWAT team hauled out computers, clothing, books and artwork — looking, the agents said, for evidence of who participated in this year's May Day demonstrations in Seattle that saw smashed windows at banks and clashes with the police.
What bothered Plante was that they weren't just looking for sticks and black masks. The FBI search warrant also listed "anarchist" and "anti-government" literature and material among items to be seized.
"It was like something out of George Orwell's '1984.' It was absolutely horrendous," Plante, 24, said shortly before she was taken into custody Oct. 10 for failing to testify before a federal grand jury in Seattle about her friends in the anarchist movement.
Plante is one of three activists being held at the Federal Detention Center near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in an investigation of anarchists in the Pacific Northwest that has led to subpoenas in Seattle, Olympia and Portland. The secretive probe has raised alarm among civil rights advocates who say witnesses are being asked to answer questions not only about their own activities May 1 — Plante says she wasn't even in Seattle — but what they know about certain groups or organizations.
The investigation in Seattle is one of several across the U.S. targeting anarchists. Last month, three self-described anarchists pleaded guilty to plotting to blow up a bridge south of Cleveland. Three purported anarchists were arrested in Chicago in May and accused of conspiring to burn down buildings with Molotov cocktails during the NATO summit there.
One person, caught on camera, has pleaded guilty to bashing the door of the federal appeals courthouse in Seattle on May Day, an incident that elevated at least that part of the mayhem to a federal crime. Authorities said they are investigating whether anyone crossed state lines to riot — also a violation of federal law.
The FBI, citing the secrecy of the grand jury process, has declined to discuss the Seattle investigation, though an affidavit mistakenly released to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer suggested that several Portland activists were monitored as they traveled to Olympia just before the May Day demonstrations. It said text messages monitored by federal authorities established that they were among the black-clad protesters who damaged a federal courthouse and clashed with police that day.
Anarchism as a political philosophy has deep roots in the Pacific Northwest, and that's one of the problems, civil rights advocates say: Many people who might never attack a courthouse may hand out pamphlets and attend meetings that call for upending the nation's system of money and power.
"Anytime the federal government is sending federal security officers into people's homes looking for anti-government literature, that raises all sorts of red flags," said Neil Fox, president of the Seattle chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which has helped provide attorneys for those called in for questioning.
Authorities say they have long had trouble monitoring protest movements such as Occupy, which attract primarily peaceful demonstrators, but may include radical activists — the kind who don black clothing and cover their faces to attack banks, shops and other perceived symbols of capitalist excess.
"We can use the example in L.A. [The Occupy protest] started off being peaceful demonstrators exercising their 1st Amendment rights, and it was not a problem. But they stayed here [City Hall] 59 days, and over time, you could see the criminal element come into the movement, and it began to degrade very fast," said Michael Downing, head of the Los Angeles Police Department's counter-terrorism and criminal intelligence bureau.
"We saw anarchists, drug dealers, we saw weapons being moved in, rebar, bamboo pipes. It created an environment where people who really wanted to stay and exercise their rights weren't able to because it became unsafe," he said.
Back in Seattle, detained along with Plante are two activists from Olympia, Wash., who also refused to testify: Matthew Duran, 24, a computer technician, and his roommate, Katherine Olejnik, 23, a bartender.
Letters of support have flooded in to all three, and appeals urging their release have multiplied across the Internet. Duran, who grew up in Southern California advocating for the rights of migrant workers, said he had heard from people as far away as France and Italy since he went into custody Sept. 13.
Olejnik, arrested in 2007 and 2008 at the ports of Olympia and Tacoma for trying to blockade war equipment bound for Iraq, said federal prosecutors who questioned her seemed to be trying to identify networks, not crimes.
"They weren't trying to figure out from me who did a certain thing. They wanted to know who knew who, who was connected to who," said Olejnik, who has been held since Sept. 27. "They're asking us who believes in things."
Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Seattle, which is coordinating the grand jury probe, said the order to incarcerate the three was merely an attempt, under civil contempt proceedings, to compel them to answer questions they are required by law to answer.
"It's not punitive," she said. "It's coercive."