Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Grand Jury Resisters

The following is the original collaborative piece written for Socialist Worker with co-author Benjamin Silverman. The final piece can be found here, with further contributions by Johnny Mao, under the title An anti-anarchist witch-hunt.

“I do not look forward to what inevitably awaits me today, but I accept it ... My convictions are unwavering and will not be shaken by their harassment. Today is October 10th, 2012, and I’m ready to go to prison.” Thus said 24-year old Leah-Lynn Plante, the third anarchist in the Pacific Northwest, after Matthew Kyle Duran and Katherine “KteeO” Olejnik, to be sent to jail for refusing to testify in front of a federal grand jury. She faces as much as 18 months in prison.

Plante and the others were victims of a series of raids on July 25th conducted by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force--supposedly in response to instances of vandalism during this year’s Seattle May Day protests. The warrant granted to the task force allowed them to raid the homes of activists in three cities. The FBI was then able to make residents hand over any “anti-government or anarchist literature” along with flags, black clothing, cell phones, hard-drives and address books. “As if they had taken pointers from Orwell’s 1984, they took books, artwork and other various literature as ‘evidence’ as well as many other personal belongings even though they seemed to know that nobody there was even in Seattle on May Day,” said Plante. This is a clear case of political leanings, instead of any substantive action, being used as proof of criminality. As Plante said earlier last week, “They are trying to investigate anarchists and persecute them for their beliefs. This is a fishing expedition. This is a witch hunt.”

The activists were brought before a federal grand jury where they were asked questions in regards to their political opinions and the political circles and individuals they associate with. The significance of grand juries is that when you enter one you lose your 1st and 5th amendment rights to remain silent. Prosecutors can ask you any question, some such infamous questions being, “Have you, or anyone you know, ever been a member of the Communist Party?” and refusal to answer will land you in contempt of court. This is why grand juries have the power to intimidate and harass activists, and simultaneously force them to disclose their political activity and snitch on their comrades.

This is not the first time the government has persecuted radicals. With door-busting tactics that span generations, the U.S. government has made a habit of black bagging “supposed threats” to national security. It appears we haven’t come far since the Palmer Raids of 1919 and 1920. A. Mitchell Palmer was appointed by Woodrow Wilson in 1919 as Attorney General and charged with investigating left-wing organizations and communists/anarchists. Palmer quickly recruited Hoover as a special assistant- and together they used the Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918 in order to justify launching a witch-hunt against anti-capitalists.

The methods of targeting radicals have seen numerous political manifestations for example targeting individuals and groups in not only the “Red Scare” periods but during the  FBI's COINTELPRO program from the 1950s to 1970s; and the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001. The Patriot Act contains provisions criminalizing "material support" for "terrorism;" convenient language that is being used to target activists.

With recent raids occurring with frequency in specifically the Muslim American and anti-war activist communities. In late September of 2010, the FBI raided eight homes and offices of antiwar activists in Chicago and Minneapolis. The granted search warrants indicate FBI agents were looking for connections between antiwar activists and groups in Colombia and the Middle East. The warrants authorized agents to seize items such as electronics, videos, photographs, address books and mail. Despite a Justice Department probe finding that the FBI improperly monitored activist groups and individuals from 2001 to 2006 these raids continued. Eight people were issued subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago.

The American Civil Liberties Union has stated, “In the wake of 9/11, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security initiated sweeping programs that amount to racial profiling on a federal scale — ranging from suspicionless searches and arbitrary detentions of Arabs and Muslim Americans to counterterrorism financing and material support laws that unfairly target Muslim organizations and charities. No area of American Muslim civil society has been left untouched by discriminatory and illegitimate government action.” This sort of racist targeting is also felt within the activist community.

When Muslim Americans speak out about Islamophobia and the US’s role in political repression they face a doubly motivated persecution based on their ethnicity and politics. The case of Tarek Mehanna is such as case. For several years Tarek has been victim to FBI surveillance and harassment. He was targeted for being a politically conscious, outspoken Muslim leader. The FBI approached Tarek to become an informant. When Tarek refused to inform against his community, the FBI continued to harass him with threats of criminal charges if he would not comply. After his 2009 arrest, Tarek was denied bail twice and spent over 2 years imprisoned at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in 23-hour solitary confinement awaiting trial. Tarek’s trial began on October 27th, 2011 and lasted only 2 months. He was convicted on all 7 counts on December 20th, 2011.
This is not a system designed to deal out ‘justice’ of any sort. This is a system designed to only control and terrorize a population, to keep dissenters in line and paranoid.

The three defendants, Plante, Duran and Olejnik, have done nothing wrong. They were subpoenaed in the hopes that they would be intimidated into giving information on others, and in protest of this injustice, they have refused to cooperate with the grand jury. As Plante said after her second appearance and refusal to answer questions before the federal grand jury, “No, I will not answer their questions. I believe that these hearings are politically motivated. The government wants to use them to collect information that it can use in a campaign of repression. I refuse to have any part of it, I will never answer their questions, I will never speak.”

Understanding that this is a witch-hunt, and what cooperating with it would mean for other activists is what motivated Katherine “KteeO” Olejnik to make her statement upon entering prison in late September, “For me choosing to resist a grand jury is about humanity – I cannot and will not say something that could greatly harm a person’s life, and providing information that could lead to long term incarceration would be doing that. For me choosing to resist a grand jury is about freedom of speech and association – I cannot and will not be a party to a McCarthyist policy that is asking individuals to condemn each other based on political beliefs.” For their stand against this security state, the three were found in contempt of court and sentenced to over 18 months in prison. Matthew Kyle Duran has spent some of which in solitary confinement but was recently released into the general population.

The mainstream media has covered the case of Pussy Riot in their stand against censorship and repression in Putin’s Russia, as they should have. But so far the same media has refused to adequately cover the same sort of bravery occurring right here in the Pacific Northwest. The three grand jury resistors, and all other political prisoners caught in America’s criminal injustice system, are our Pussy Rioters, our heros. They have been resilient before police repression, stood by their principals and have refused to collaborate in any way with this witch-hunt. Their defiance, courage and the example they give are worthy of our admiration.

In Matthew Kyle Duran’s statement, before beginning his prison sentence in early September he said, “Do not stop the struggle, keep organizing and fighting or they will have won. When the Haymarket massacre took place all those years ago and the martyrs were hung for their desire for a better life, the State attempted to crush all radicals. Clearly, this did not work then and it won’t work now. If this was their desire, they have failed in every aspect of it as I have not seen anything other than flagrant disregard for them across the globe.”

We encourage all to write letters of support to Leah, Matthew and Katherine in prison to show them solidarity, that they are not forgotten and lend them strength during these difficult times.

Leah-Lynn Plante #42611-086
FDC SeaTac
PO Box 13900
Seattle, WA 98198

Katherine Olejnik #42592-086
FDC SeaTac,
P.O. Box 13900
Seattle, WA 98198

Matthew Kyle Duran #42565-086
FDC SeaTac,
P.O. Box 13900
Seattle, WA 98198

You can donate to the grand jury resistors legal fund at:

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