Daniel McGowan
Daniel McGowan
Daniel McGowan
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December 7th: Ten years later

Monday, December 7th, 2015

Ten years ago today, I was finishing up stuffing holiday cards for my employer when 2 beefy men asked me if i was indeed, Daniel McGowan. Once I was handcuffed and being frog-marched through the office, I knew what it was about.

At the same time, 6 of my codefendants were getting arrested at the same time. Others were receiving grand jury subpoenas as well. Sadly, all the people arrested that day became cooperating witnesses save for William Rodgers, who I knew as’Avalon’, who took his life in a county jail on the Winter Solstice, two weeks after we were arrested.

Of course, other arrests followed in the months after that, with a handful of codefendants refusing to play the game. We came together in solidarity to fight the charges and reduce the potential sentence as much as possible. For that, I will always have gratitude to Jonathan Paul, Nathan Block and Joyanna Zacher (though it would be disingenuous for me to not point out the latter two peoples’ identification with esoteric fascist movements currently).

I was bonded out of jail, fought my case on house arrest for a year and months after that, worked out a plea that did not involve naming names or becoming a witness against anyone. It had repercussions for me including more time and no protection from grand juries (and surely, two years later, i was called before one as a witness and put on civil contempt of court). That said, I cannot have seen it going any other way. My regrets with the case is that more of my co-defendants did not stick with us and move forward together-something that had been the idea when worst case scenarios had been discussed years prior.

10 years later, its obvious to me every time i go to any activist event that many younger activists do not know this history. I suppose it is the struggle we all face-how to remember and memorialize, but not live in the past and nostalgia. I can tell people to watch If a Tree Falls or read Green is the New Red (thanks, Marshall Curry, Sam Cullman & Will Potter) but that is an incomplete picture. How then, do we, move forward in our fight for justice and pass on to others what we learned? Its a longer question.

I use the word “I” often in this post and perhaps others as I am talking about the past but at no point have I ever felt alone and not connected to others. Without these stalwart, loyal and amazing people in my life, I know with certainty that things would have gone a totally different way:

Jenny Malone- my former partner and best friend. The rock. The Wizard of Oz behind every aspect of the support campaign and the ‘trying to keep me sane’ campaign. G.O.A.T.  EXES 4EVAH!

My family especially my sister Lisa who funded my legal defense, let me live with her while on house arrest and did not waver or flinch one time. These people taught me loyalty.

Family and Friends of Daniel McGowan better known as FAF.
This small group worked their asses off, put on so many shows, sold a zillon t-shirts, made my court dates, wrote articles, supported me mentally, emotionally and financially, put their lives on hold for some time to make sure I would have a life to come home too. So much gratitude to all of them. I am not even in touch with all of them, which to be honest, saddens me but I have nothing but lifelong gratitude for all of them. Shoutouts to Andrew, Ainsley, Eliza, Kitty, Corey, Sideshow, Cindy, Marianne and Ryan.

This article may be the best article I have seen on the topic though its quite dated. Check it out.

Write my codees:

Rebecca Rubin #98290-011
FCI Dublin
5701 8th Street – Camp Parks
Dublin, California 94568
Birthday: April 18


Rebecca Rubin is serving a 5 year sentence for her role in a series of Earth Liberation Front (ELF) actions including the arson of the Vail Ski Resort Expansion and US Forest Industries. She also participated in the liberation of horses and the arson of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wild Horse Facilities in Litchfield, California and Burns, Oregon. Rebecca is expected to be released in September, 2017.

You can buy Rebecca a book (or 5!) at http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/2EEY8SICPOC9D

Justin Solondz #98291-011
FCI Oakdale I
Post Office Box 5000
Oakdale, Louisiana 71463
Birthday: October 3


Justin Solondz pleaded guilty to conspiracy and arson for his
involvement in the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) arson of the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture in 2001 and the Romania Chevrolet dealership in Eugene, Oregon. Justin was imprisoned in China for three years prior to extradition. His anticipated release date is 9/23/2017.

Daniel to speak at Left Forum June 1st

Friday, May 30th, 2014


Daniel will be speaking publicly about the Communication Management Unit this Sunday, June 1 at 12pm at the Left Forum.

The panel will discuss the erosion of basic rights resulting from post-9/11 War On Terror (WOT) policies and practices – in our communities, courtrooms and prisons across the US. It will feature stories of impacted family members, former prisoners, and advocates, who have been resisting alarming trends in human rights violations since 9/11.

Panelists to include:
1. Daniel McGowan is an environmental and social justice activist from NYC, and a former political prisoner. As a former defendant and political prisoner, Daniel will reflect on how terrorism laws have been used to prosecute certain targeted groups and moreover how the WOT rationale is invoked again post-conviction to penalize protected activity and identity, e.g., through the use of Communication Management Units in federal prisons and other harsh conditions of confinement which further suppress political expression.

2. Ms. Shahina Parveen Siraj is a leader in DRUM – South Asian Organizing Center, and the mother of Shahawar Matin Siraj, who was entrapped by the NYPD;

3. Fahd Ahmed is the Legal and Policy Director at DRUM;

4. Chair: Abigail Downs is a Legal Worker at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

By exploring the linkages between repression of environmental activists, Muslims, and immigrants in the US under the WOT paradigm, the panel will encourage activists of the Left to think through how we can build bridges and mobilize together to achieve a more just society — by challenging both the rights violations that have increasingly become the norm in terrorism prosecutions post-9/11 and also broader injustices in the criminal justice system. In the spirit of the Forum’s 2014 theme, the panel will explore strategies to effect change and debate the pitfalls of reform tactics that permit categories of people to remain vulnerable to grave abuses.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice
524 W. 59th St (Between 10th and 11th)
New York, New York
Room L2.81

Background reading material by Daniel and about the CMU:

Tales from Inside the U.S. Gitmo
Urgent Appeal from a Secret Prison
Live From Little Guantanamo
Court Documents Prove I was Sent to Communication Management Units (CMU) for my Political Speech
Daniel McGowan, Put in an Extreme Prison Isolation Unit for Writing Things, Loses Lawsuit Against Bureau of Prisons
Bureau of Prisons Backtracks, Again, On Daniel McGowan
Daniel McGowan Released After Lawyers Confirm He Was Jailed For HuffPost Blog
Daniel McGowan Jailed, Allegedly For Writing Huffington Post Blog (UPDATE)
UPDATE: BOP Invents Special Restriction for Environmental Activist Daniel McGowan: No Publishing Articles
Environmentalist Back in Jail Days After Writing About His Secretive Prison Unit for HuffPost- by Will Potter
Daniel McGowan Forbidden From Publishing Articles Without Permission


Daniel is looking for work.

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

We are reaching out to you today because you have expressed interest and shown support to Daniel these past eight years. Daniel came out of prison December 2012, and thanks to an old friend, started work two days later at a progressive law firm in New York City. He is now at the point where he wants to move on and further his career goals. We are writing to see if you can assist us with leads or ideas. Like 2 years ago, Daniel’s primary job goal is one in communications, one in which he can utilize his verbal and writing skills to communicate to a greater audience. Daniel is primarily interested in working for a non profit organization but is not opposed to working for a business that is not engaged in harmful behavior.

Daniel has been working as a receptionist for a law firm for the past few years. In addition to having a  college degree, Daniel completed a paralegal course as well as many continuing education and vocational course available while in prison despite limited opportunities for education. He is driven and has a broad skill-set that he is looking to utilize. If you would like a copy of his resume, please email us.

Some of the areas Daniel is interested in are:

*Civil liberties/Free speech
*Prison reform
*Food justice/security
*Urban agriculture
*Recycling or Waste reduction
*Reproductive rights
*LGBT issues
*Climate change
*Harm reduction/Drug policy
*Prisoner re-entry
* “Green-collar”
*Alternative energy
*Sustainable transportation
*Environmental justice
*Domestic violence

If you work for a NYC-based non-profit, have a close friend, partner or contact at one, or have a specific organization or business in mind that might be open to hiring Daniel, we’d love to hear from you! Specific job ads or contacts are welcome. Thank you so much for your help.

All emails can be directed to friendsofdanielmcg@yahoo.com

2.7.14 Punk Rock Karaoke benefiting NYC ABC!

Sunday, January 12th, 2014



What:Punk Rock Karaoke benefiting NYC ABC!
When: February 7, 2014, 8pm
Where: Pine Box Rock Shop 12 Grattan St, Brooklyn, New York 11206
Cost: $8 donation at the door

Join us as we once again storm Brooklyn for a night of punk rock singalongs at
the Pine Box. As with all our events, in addition to being a great time, this
is also a benefit! This time all money raised at the event will benefit NYC
Anarchist Black Cross and their ongoing efforts supporting political prisoners
and opposing the prison industrial complex.

Tell your friends and come ready to have an awesome time. See you there.

Punk Rock Karaoke is a DIY, fund-raising event that benefits a different
community group each time.

Featuring songs from:
Against Me!, Bikini Kill, Black Flag, Bratmobile, Buzzcocks, Choking Victim,
The Clash, Circle Jerks, Crass, Dead Kennedys, Descendents, Devo, Flogging
Molly, Fugazi, Gogol Bordello, Gorilla Biscuits, Jawbreaker, Joy Division,
Minor Threat, The Misfits, NOFX, Operation Ivy, Pixies, The Pogues, Ramones,
Rancid, Screeching Weasel, Sex Pistols, Sleater-Kinney, The Smiths, The
Specials, Stiff Little Fingers, Wire, X, X-Ray Spex + More!!!

P.S. Like us on Facebook to stay up to date on future events:

For more info on NYC ABC: http://nycabc.wordpress.com

NYC Anarchist Black Cross is a collective focused on supporting US-held
political prisoners and prisoners of war and opposing state repression against
revolutionary social justice movements. They are a support group of the continental Anarchist Black
Cross  Federation.

New Campaign: Welcome Home John Tucker (Tinley Park Five)

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

Posted on behalf of NYC ABC

John Tucker of the Tinley Park 5 is due to be released from prison at the end of this month or by early February. So , Bloomington ABC , NYC ABC, and Sacramento Prisoner Support have launched a campaign to start a release fund for John.

From j.mp/JohnTucker:
“John Tucker, the second of the Tinley Park 5 to be released, will be free in JANUARY! The Tinley Park 5 are 5 men from Indiana charged with multiple felonies for an altercation with active white supremacists at a restaurant in Tinley Park, Illinois. (more info here)

John’s health has been neglected while imprisoned, so he is facing medical expenses, including dentistry and dermatology, when he gets out. John will also be responsible for court costs and court-mandated “anger management” classes.

John has enjoyed many letters, book & commissary donations, and correspondences from his supporters during his time in captivity (y’all have helped to make his time much more tolerable!), but prisoner support doesn’t end when they’re released; transitioning out of prison can be a difficult time for former prisoners. Having felonies on their records creates barriers to housing and employment. Many things about their lives and communities may have changed during their time inside, so extra effort is required to provide support and build solidarity to avoid isolation and undue financial hardship. Please help us create a gracious homecoming and a smooth re-entry for John.

If you cannot provide financial support at this time, we recommend writing the 3 still inside and writing, visiting, and building relationships with other incarcerated folks to continue struggles like those for which the TP5 are imprisoned. Support your local prison rebels!”

Please remember that prisoner support doesn’t end when a comrade is released. Through halfway houses, supervised release, parole, or probation, there is usually state supervision beyond the initial sentence. Also, prison is traumatic. And of course there is the stigma of being a former prisoner that effects nearly every aspect of one’s life. All of this adds up to the less obvious, but equally necessary, support needed when our loved ones come home. Donate to your ability and show an anti-fascist comrade how we welcome folks home.

If for whatever reason you’d rather donate to John offline, please make the check payable to John Tucker and mail it to:
Sacramento Prisoner Support
Post Office Box 163126
Sacramento, California 95816

If you’d like to write to John to let him know you’re thinking of him and that you’re glad he’s getting out soon, he’d love to hear from you. His current address is:
John Tucker M34024
Lincoln Correctional Center
Post Office Box 549
Lincoln, Illinois 62656

More information is available at tinleyparkfive.wordpress.com and j.mp/JohnTucker

Rest in Peace, Avalon

Saturday, December 21st, 2013


My friend, fellow activist and codefendant William C. Rodgers, known to those who loved him, as Avalon took his life on the Winter Solstice, December 21, 2005. Avalon was arrested and charged with one count of arson for his alleged role in an ELF arson at the National Wildlife Research Facility in Olympia, Washington. It is likely that those prosecuting our case would have attempted to portray Avalon as the mastermind of the conspiracy based on his age (5-7 years older than most of us) and his long term activism. Sadly, many of my codefendants who cooperated fully with the government were all too happy to indulge the feds with this fallacy, even submitting information only the Judge was able to view. 

When I read the words used to describe Avalon, I am perplexed because the man I knew, though far from perfect was a kind, gentle soul who treated me and everyone he met with curiosity and generosity. I remember Avalon as a lover of nature; someone who dedicated much of his adult life to protecting and defending  wild places. My memories of him are personal and I hesitate to share them but I just wanted to be clear that the ‘criminal mastermind’ & ‘leader of the ELF’ caricature suggested by cooperating codefendants and prosecution does not match who I knew. I am reminded of the fact that in all likelihood, Avalon would be either out of prison or leaving prison shortly had he not left us prematurely. I think it is pretty clear that part of the reason he chose to kill himself had to do with the betrayal he felt at the hands of many of my codefendants.

I for one, miss Avalon and i think the Earth and our communities are worse off without him.

Rest in peace, friend.


There are many links about Avalon online. Here are a few:

Statement written by the Catalyst Infoshop, which Avalon founded

Wikipedia page

Memorial page on Earth First! Journal: [TRIGGER ALERT: CONTAINS SUICIDE NOTE TEXT]

PS-I have no doubt that Avalon would be disinterested in any focus on himself as a person and would want want to focus on the issues and our fellow codefendants, who are still inside. Please check out http://earthfirstjournal.org/eco-prisoner-list/ for information on them.

NYC – Tuesday, October 29th – Come to a Green Scare(y) Halloween Card-Writing + Letter-Writing For Move Marie

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

WHAT: Political Prisoner Letter-Writing Dinner
WHEN: 7pm sharp, Tuesday, October 29th, 2013
WHERECAGE – 83A Hester Street (UPSTAIRS) New York, New York 10002 (directions below)
COST: Free

Free Them All!With grand jury resistance here in NYC, Feds sneaking around in Southern California, and other campaigns & projects across the country, anarchists have their hands full. The work that’s happening on these projects is, in many ways, inspiring. With that inspiration, there are plenty of reasons to become directly involved. It is in the spirit of direct involvement (and the magick of Halloween) that we host another Political Prisoner Letter-Writing Dinner. And what could be more ghoulish than the Green Scare?

Since the early 1980s, public relations hacks have been working to reify the term “eco-terrorism.” By 2004, they became successful and a phrase that a decade earlier had no real meaning was now defined by the United States government and used to introduce legislation. Now we have comrades serving decades for economic sabotage and allegations of thought crime. With several recent animal liberation actions, and Rebecca Rubin facing 5 to seven and a half years, it is clear that Earth and animal liberationists are both still active and still in the cross-hairs of the feds. Join us in letting them know they are not forgotten.

We are also taking this letter-writing night to answer the call to organize an event to get letters on behalf of Marie Mason, in an effort to get her moved from the isolation unit in FMC Carswell, where she is currently imprisoned. For more information on the campaign, visit movemarie.com

The deal, as always, is that you come bringing only yourself (and your friends and comrades), and we provide you with a delicious vegan meal, information about the prisoners as well as all of the letter-writing materials and prisoner-letter-writing info you could ever want to use in one evening. In return, you write a thoughtful letter to a political prisoner or prisoner of war of your choosing or, better yet, keep up a long-term correspondence. We’ll also provide some brief updates and pass around birthday cards for the PP/POWs whose birthdays fall in the next two weeks thanks to thePP/POW Birthday Calendar.

Getting to CAGE is simple:
From the J/M/Z:
Essex Street Stop: Walk west on Delancey Street (toward Essex Street, away from Norfolk Street) and make a left on Essex Street. Walk three blocks and turn right onto Hester Street. We’re two and a half blocks down, on the right.

From the F:
East Broadway Stop: Walk north on Rutgers Street (toward East Broadway, away from Henry Street), that becomes Essex Street, and turn left on Hester Street. We’re two and a half blocks down, on the right.

From the B/D:
Grand Street Stop: Walk east on Grand Street (Toward Forsyth Street, away from Chrystie Street) and turn right on Orchard Street. Walk one block and turn right onto Hester Street. We’re a few storefronts down on the right.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch. Otherwise, we’ll see you at supper.

This event is brought to you by your friendly neighborhood Anarchist Black Cross.

Daniel McGowan, Jailed For HuffPost Blog, Takes First Step Toward Lawsuit

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Matt Sledge

Posted: 09/17/2013 4:50 pm EDT  |  Updated: 09/17/2013 5:48 pm EDT

NEW YORK — Former Earth Liberation Front member Daniel McGowan took the first step toward a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons on Tuesday, filing a $200,000 claim over an April incident in which he was jailed for writing a Huffington Post column.

On April 4, 2013, McGowan was taken from a halfway house, where he was serving out the final months of a seven-year sentence, and sent to a Brooklyn jail for roughly a day and a half. Three days before, he had published a HuffPost blog post about the years he spent in two secretive federal prison units designed to severely restrict inmates’ contact with the outside world.

McGowan, 39, alleges in his Federal Tort Claims Act submission with the Bureau of Prisons that the jailing caused him emotional harm and deprived him of his liberty. The bureau has acknowledged that the move was inappropriately made on the basis of a regulation against inmates publishing under their own name that had been ruled unconstitutional in 2007.

The Bureau of Prisons has six months to respond to McGowan’s claim. If he is denied, he may then file a lawsuit against the agency.

Bureau spokesman Chris Burke said the agency does not comment on the cases of individual inmates.

McGowan’s April jailing was the last in a series of what he alleges were retaliatory actions the Bureau of Prisons took against him during the seven years he served for conspiracy and arson committed as an Earth Liberation Front member. He was placed in the prison system’s communication management units — which prisoners calls “Little Guantanamo” — at least in part on the bureau’s determination that he had “attempted to unite the radical environmental and animal liberation movements” through articles and interviews from prison.

“The irony is just so thick,” McGowan told HuffPost for a story last week. “You’re writing an article about retaliation for freedom of speech and writing, and they retaliate by throwing you in prison.”

I ‘Got Snatched’: Daniel McGowan’s Bizarre Trip Through America’s Prison System

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

I ‘Got Snatched’: Daniel McGowan’s Bizarre Trip Through America’s Prison System

Matt Sledge by    msledge@huffingtonpost.com

Daniel McGowan was in the yard of the Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone, Minn., when his name rang out over the loudspeaker. It had been eight months since he first reported to the low-security prison to start a seven-year sentence for conspiracy and arson. To pass the time, he worked as an orderly in the prison psychology department, took correspondence classes and exercised.

Sandstone, located nearly smack-dab in the middle of the country, was about as far removed as McGowan could be from his wife, Jenny Synan, in New York and from his former compatriots in the Earth Liberation Front in Oregon, with whom he had been caught in a national law enforcement sweep. But he still kept in touch with the outside world, writing passionate articles about the environment and prisons for publications like the Earth First! Journal. He was allotted 300 minutes of phone time a month. And on the rare occasions when Synan could get away from work, she would come see him. In the prison’s visiting room, they would hug and kiss and play board games together.

He was looking forward to such a visit when the loudspeaker told him to report to the prison’s shipping and receiving department. It was the day before his second wedding anniversary in May 2008, and he assumed that he was being called in for some routine matter. Perhaps the package full of books he had recently mailed to his wife had been returned for insufficient postage, he thought.

Instead, a prison staffer handed McGowan two boxes and told him to fill them up with his possessions. He was the one being shipped. When he asked his case manager where he was being taken, he was thrown in a cell.

He headed south the next day, still unsure of his destination. “When I got on the bus, they told me ‘Marion,’” McGowan says.


* * * * *
The U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Ill., is home to more than 1,100 prisoners. Originally built in 1963 to house inmates from Alcatraz, it operated on long-term lockdown as one of America’s most notorious prisons for decades. Inmates were held in their cells for 23 or 24 hours a day, in what was essentially the first federal “supermax.”

After the supermax in Florence, Colo., opened in 1994, Marion remained in use as a maximum-security prison. In 2006, it was renovated, expanded and downgraded to a medium-security facility. But in March 2008, it quietly regained some of its supermax identity — and its status as an experimental prototype for the prison system — when the Federal Bureau of Prisons established within its walls a secretive wing known as a Communication Management Unit, where prisoners are held under tight restrictions. Inmates call it “Little Guantanamo.” This is where McGowan was headed.

Forty-two prisoners are currently in the CMU at Marion. Another 43 are in a similar facility in Terre Haute, Ind., that was built two years earlier. The special units were developed as part of the federal government’s crackdown on terrorism following 9/11. Particularly after Lynne Stewart, the former defense attorney for the Blind Sheik, Omar Abdel-Rahman, was convicted in 2005 of covertly sending messages to her client’s followers in Egypt, the Bureau of Prisons was determined to create a new form of incarceration to monitor inmates’ every contact with the outside world. When the CMUs were first opened, nearly all of their inmates were Muslim men.

Unlike at Guantanamo, the prisoners in these CMUs are not being held indefinitely. But they are subjected to unusual restrictions: only two 15-minute phone calls a week, heavily monitored mail and eight hours of visitation a month. Inmates are restricted in how many times a week they can hold group prayers. Their movements and conversations are recorded at all times. Critics have described the conditions as psychologically debilitating.

Some of the inmates currently being held in CMUs are people like John Walker Lindh, who fought with the Taliban against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Many others have only tenuous connections to terrorism, however. Some of their crimes are merely hypothetical. Yassin Aref, an Albany, N.Y., imam, for example, was convicted of witnessing a fake loan for a Stinger missile to be used against the Pakistani ambassador in New York. According to Paul Wright, the ex-con founder of Prison Legal News, most of the prisoners being housed in CMUs “aren’t even the second- and third-tier prisoners in the war on terror. These are like the sixth and seventh tier.”

Others have no publicly known connection to terrorism at all, beyond sharing a religion with the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks. Avon Twitty, for example, was serving a 27-year sentence for killing a man during an argument before being transferred to a CMU for the final years of his sentence, but he was also a convert to Islam.

According to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of a number of prisoners, the CMUs are analogous to solitary confinement — an “experiment in social isolation” that allows corrections officials to retaliate against what they view as bad behavior, even if it is protected by the First Amendment. By classifying the CMUs as simply a way to monitor inmates, rather than as a punishment, the Bureau of Prisons has sidestepped the knotty issue of due process rights.

In a bit of what McGowan’s lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Rachel Meeropol, calls “beautiful doublespeak,” the BOP refers to the CMUs as “self-contained general population units.” The inmates may be quarantined in the CMUs, the BOP asserts, but the units are still “general population” and thus don’t require additional administrative procedures to determine which prisoners will be placed there.

“My suspicion from the get-go was, I’m unrepentant in terms of my political identity,” McGowan says of his placement in the CMU. “I think what they’re trying to do is say, ‘OK, you want to be a little political prisoner type, you want to write and be all active and say stuff, and get a ton of mail and everyone thinks you’re peachy keen? You’re gonna get crushed.’”

The Bureau of Prisons has strenuously denied that it places inmates in CMUs because they are Muslim or because they have exercised other First Amendment rights. “Inmates are designated to the unit for management of their communications based on the potential security threat they present,” Chris Burke, a BOP spokesman, wrote in a statement to The Huffington Post. At least some inmates, he added, may be placed in the units for other communications threats, like trying to harass victims or witnesses of their crimes.

McGowan, at first blush, does not fit the image of a terrorist. Born the son of a police officer in New York’s working-class Rockaway neighborhood, he attended the State University of New York in Buffalo and then drifted into the world of environmental activism. In the hothouse atmosphere of Eugene, Ore., in the late 1990s, he became more and more radicalized — an evolution detailed in the Oscar-nominated documentary “If a Tree Falls” — and eventually joined a small cell of the Earth Liberation Front.

McGowan and his group conducted a campaign of vandalism and arson across the Pacific Northwest for several years. No one was killed or injured. Eventually, McGowan says, while his hands were still covered in gasoline during one of their actions, he decided to split from the group. In 2002, the year in which he turned 28, he moved back home to New York and took a job at a Brooklyn nonprofit for victims of domestic violence.

McGowan met Synan at his sister’s birthday party just before he moved back, and he was instantly taken with her. They began dating. She was sitting at work at an arts organization in December 2005 when she received a call from one of McGowan’s office mates that he had just been taken away by FBI agents. “And that was the first that I knew” that McGowan might have been under investigation, she says.

McGowan’s autonomous cell within the decentralized Earth Liberation Front was known as “The Family.” Its members had promised never to turn on each other if the feds came calling. But one of them did, leading to indictments for McGowan and six of his companions.

After bail, house arrest and legal proceedings — protracted because he refused to testify against his fellow defendants — McGowan eventually agreed to enter a non-cooperation plea. He would admit to taking part in arsons at a lumber company and a tree farm, but he would not be forced to testify against his fellow defendants.

“I hope that you will see that my actions were not those of [a] terrorist but of a concerned young person,” McGowan said in his plea statement in November 2006. “After taking part in these two actions, I realized that burning things down did not fit with my visions or belief about how to create a better world. So I stopped committing these crimes.”

McGowan did not see himself as a terrorist, but the federal government did. In the midst of a nationwide panic over environmentalist-linked crimes that critics call “the green scare,” prosecutors obtained a terrorism enhancement for McGowan’s crimes. The designation did not result in a longer prison term, but McGowan’s supporters warned that it could lead to his placement in one of the CMUs, which were just being set up at the time.

Civil liberties groups like the National Lawyers Guild and criminal defense attorneys were infuriated by the “terrorist” label, which McGowan rejects to this day. Although they may not have approved of his criminal tactics, they argued that labeling him a terrorist was an absurd overreaction to crimes that resulted in nothing more than property damage.

“Is this what a terrorist is?” Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, asked at the time. “Americans know the difference between Daniel McGowan and Osama bin Laden, and this effort to subvert the fairness of the judicial system is an affront to the values they hold dear.”

Still, as McGowan was serving his sentence at Sandstone, Leslie Smith, the chief of the prison system’s Counter-Terrorism Unit, made the case to have him transferred to a more restrictive facility and to have his communications cut off. In a memo dated March 27, 2008, Smith argued that McGowan was an “organizer.”

“While incarcerated and through social correspondence and articles written for radical publications, inmate McGowan has attempted to unite the radical environmental and animal liberation movements,” Smith wrote. McGowan, according to Smith, had spoken bitterly of the government’s cooperating witnesses as “snitches” for their “betrayal.”

There were inconsistencies in Smith’s dark portrait. He singled out McGowan’s prison letters and interviews, but in them McGowan cautioned against the kinds of destructive actions for which he had been convicted, as he had in his plea statement.

“We need to have serious conversations about whether militancy is truly effective in all situations,” McGowan told the Earth First! Journal. “Certainly, direct action is a wonderful tool, but from my experience, it may not be the most effective one at all times or in all situations.”

“Direct action” is a deliberately vague term that covers a wide range of protest tactics, from non-violent sit-ins to sabotage and property destruction. But for those versed in the movement’s lingo, it was clear what McGowan was saying: Think twice before you try actions as aggressive as mine.

Nevertheless, to Smith, those articles and interviews about “direct action” were proof positive that McGowan was trying to act as a “spokesman” for the radical environmental movement.

According to Burke, the BOP spokesman, inmates can be placed in CMUs when they “have been convicted of, or associated with, international or domestic terrorism,” when they “attempt to coordinate illegal activities via approved communication methods while incarcerated,” or when they “have extensive disciplinary histories for the continued misuse/abuse of approved communication methods.”

In his memo, Smith noted McGowan’s sterling disciplinary history but emphasized his speech since entering prison. Two months later, he was on the bus out of Sandstone.

In McGowan’s words, he “got snatched.”


* * * * *

At Marion, McGowan says, he found a totally different world from the one he had known at Sandstone. With severely limited contact with the outside, and little access to the classes and activities available at regular prisons, inmates would stare at the TV all day or wander the halls aimlessly, like zombies.

When his wife visited him, they could no longer kiss and hug and play board games. Instead, they would walk down a hallway together, with two sets of bars between them, unable to touch. In a small room, they would sit across from each other, separated by glass, and speak through phones, so that agents in the BOP’s Counter-Terrorism Unit could listen in.

“The worst part would be in the hallway together, and it’d be like two sets of bars, and she’d be coming in and I’d be going in the same room, and I’d see her in the flesh and I’d go I can’t even believe how insane this is,” McGowan remembers thinking. “Because then we go into our little box, and there’s two cameras, and you’re on a crappy little phone.”

“And then you go there and you’re behind glass,” Synan says. “You can’t touch the other person, feel their hands, touch their skin. But also you’re sitting there in a very tiny booth, holding a phone, knowing that there’s somebody recording the call.”

Other families broke apart under the strain, McGowan says. His relationship with Synan, whom he married shortly before his prison term began, was tested.

At the time, only 15 minutes were allotted for phone time each week, making conversations frustrating. “Say you’re just bickering about something, but after 15 minutes that phone hangs up, but you get nothing for the next week,” Synan says. “You have to just sit there and, say somehow, we’re in the middle of this argument, but you can’t do anything about it.”

Most difficult for McGowan, Synan says, was when his mother died in 2009. On their one phone call a week, she told him that his mother was in the hospital. “Your mom’s very sick,” she said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

But McGowan needed to have the hospital’s phone number approved before he could call it — a process that couldn’t be completed late on a Friday. All through the weekend, he lived in a suspended state, waiting for Monday to find out whether his mother was dead.

“It’s horrible. This is life and death, and they had to approve a hospital room phone number, which is ridiculous,” Synan says.

McGowan’s mother made it through the weekend — a small solace. He called the hospital room, and with his sisters holding up the phone on the other end to his barely speaking mother, he talked to her. “He’s got 15 minutes and that’s it,” Synan recalls. “And so the phone hangs up and he’s talked to his mom, and he won’t know anything for a while.”

When McGowan’s mother died days later, Synan told him in a message sent through a special, heavily monitored prison email system.

“That was the only way to do it,” Synan says. McGowan had made her promise she would let him know as soon as possible.

With a few interruptions, McGowan was held in the CMU at Marion for two years. In October 2010, he was released into the prison’s general population.

But McGowan’s time in Little Guantanamo was far from over. After several months in general population, in February 2011 he was sent off to the other CMU, housed on the old death row at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute. McGowan says that move also smacked of retaliation and further highlighted the absurdity of treating prisoners like dangerous terrorists one day and common criminals the next.

The reason for his second transfer seems Kafkaesque. In January 2011, the leaks website Public Intelligence released two BOP Counter-Terrorism intelligence reports, which included details on letters to many of the inmates held at the CMUs. The documents provided a rare look into just what sort of communications monitoring the BOP was conducting on its “terrorist” inmates, including McGowan.

In one week, the report detailed, McGowan received two items of interest to the BOP: a series of postcards from a woman at a G-8 summit in Italy, describing the demonstrations there as “boring and depressing” because of their “total lack of antagonism,” and a letter from a lawyer describing an animal rights conference at which the “green scare” and McGowan’s incarceration were discussed.

Another report said that McGowan had been mailed a copy of a radical environmentalist magazine, which prison officials rejected, and an email from a member of a social justice public relations collective. “Much respect to you for hanging in there and staying strong,” Ryan Fletcher wrote to McGowan on Aug. 7, 2009. “One day all of this will come out and expose this thing for what it is.”

The BOP delivered some of these messages to McGowan and rejected others as too inflammatory for prison. But with the reports about his communications now live on the Internet for anyone to see, McGowan asked his wife to have his lawyer mail him copies.

To the BOP, that was “circumventing monitoring through the use of legal mail.” McGowan was sent to the Terre Haute CMU, where he spent the next 22 months.


* * * * *

In December 2012, in the final months of his seven-year sentence, McGowan was released to a halfway house in Brooklyn and obtained a job manning the front desk of a law firm.

But even then, he and his lawyers say, he was not free from the prison system’s efforts to retaliate against him.

On April 1, 2013, McGowan wrote a blog post for The Huffington Post about his incarceration in the CMUs. Three days later, U.S. marshals showed up at his halfway house. He was taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn and placed in solitary confinement.

For McGowan, his wife and his lawyers, what followed were 20 hours of terror. They had no idea whether he was about to be shipped back to one of the CMUs. They had no idea, other than perhaps the blog post, why the BOP was so upset with him.

McGowan’s jailing provoked protests from his lawyers and was reported across the Internet, including HuffPost and Politico. Three different BOP officials gave HuffPost three different explanations as to what was happening and why. Barely a day later, perhaps realizing the public relations mess it was causing, the Bureau of Prisons released McGowan back to his halfway house. Federal officials later admitted that McGowan’s re-entry manager had jailed him on the basis of a regulation barring prisoners from speaking to the media — a regulation that had been ruled unconstitutional in 2007.

To McGowan, the episode was a reminder of just how arbitrary and over-the-top the BOP’s reaction to political speech can be.

“The irony is just so thick,” McGowan says. “You’re writing an article about retaliation for freedom of speech and writing, and they retaliate by throwing you in prison.”

BOP spokesman Burke would only say, “We don’t comment on an inmate’s disciplinary history.”

If the prison system was hoping to break McGowan’s will to express himself by sending him to the CMUs, or by jailing him for his blog posts, it failed. McGowan vows that his experience will only make him fight harder for the environment. It has also given him a new cause to fight for: prison reform.

In July, a federal judge ruled that McGowan could no longer participate in the Center for Constitutional Rights’ lawsuit against the federal prison system, in large part because he is no longer a prisoner. But he is not the only one to have faced retaliation, the suit alleges.

Kifah Jayyousi is a Detroit native and Navy veteran who became a supporter of the Blind Sheik. Convicted in 2007 of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim in a foreign country and to provide material support to al-Qaeda, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Jayyousi has never been accused of trying to communicate with al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group while in prison. But in June 2008, Smith had him transferred from a Florida prison to the Terre Haute CMU based on his conviction for a terrorism-related crime.

Inside the unit, Jayyousi became a leader among his fellow Muslims. Two months after his arrival, in the middle of the heated presidential election, Jayyousi delivered a sermon to the other prisoners.

“You were brought here because you are Muslim and … our response to that has to be to stand firm, stand strong, to stand steadfast,” Jayyousi said, according to the BOP’s transcript of his monitored speech. “John McCain is a presidential candidate, and in two months he could be our president. Where was he 20 years ago? He was being tortured in a Vietnamese prison for many years with no hope. … He stood fast, he stayed firm, he came through.”

“You are going to return to your Lord to meet him with your hard work and the hardships that you have faced and done in this life; this is why we martyr,” Jayyousi said.

In October 2010, when one of his original co-defendants was sent to Terre Haute, Jayyousi was shipped off to Marion. The CMU unit manager there recommended him for release into the general population in February 2011, citing “clear conduct and a good rapport with staff and other inmates” and “no continuation of actions which precipitated his placement in the CMU.” But Smith again interceded.

“Jayyousi made statements which were aimed at inciting and radicalizing the Muslim inmate population in [the] CMU,” Smith wrote. In Smith’s characterization, Jayyousi’s long statement about prison conditions — which cited McCain; the late Vice Adm. James Stockdale, another Vietnam POW; and Nelson Mandela — was transformed into a call for inmates to “martyr themselves to serve Allah.”

Jayyousi claims, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights lawsuit, that he was simply standing up for himself and other Muslim inmates who had been put in prison and the CMU because of “fabricated” terrorism convictions. But Smith said the speech was a “highly inflammatory” action from a “charismatic leader” that “encouraged activities which would lead to a group demonstration.”

The debate is important, because courts have long held that prison officials may take actions limiting the free speech of inmates if those actions also advance “legitimate penological objectives,” such as disrupting potential prison riots.

“The Constitution applies to prisoners too,” says Meeropol of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “When you’re put in prison, there are a lot of limits on your rights … but there are limits on what can be done to them.”

In July, a federal judge found that Jayyousi had a “plausible claim” that he had suffered retaliation because of his speech. “There is arguably a disparity between the actual content of the sermon and Smith’s description of it,” the judge wrote.

Jayyousi remained in the Marion CMU until May 2013, when he was released into the general population at Marion. He “was not provided with any explanation,” Meeropol says.

Although Meeropol is glad that the BOP has instituted procedures for moving inmates out of the CMUs — in fact, the first time a prisoner was released from a CMU was when the BOP let one of her group’s named plaintiffs out a week before the group launched its lawsuit — she still calls the situation of alleged hardened terrorists being moved in and out of the general population “ridiculous.”

“There’s no clear criteria for how a prisoner can earn their way out of the CMU,” Meeropol says.

“When you don’t have procedural protections in place, it’s not surprising that abuse would result,” she adds. “The retaliation comes in with a case like Daniel.”

On June 6, McGowan was released from the halfway house after seven years in the Bureau of Prisons’ custody. At 6:01 a.m., he left the house. He got on the subway and finally headed home to crawl into bed with his wife. That weekend they stayed in at a fancy hotel. Since then, he says, he’s enjoyed simple pleasures like rock concerts — the Postal Service and Black Flag, two bands that have been re-formed since he was incarcerated — and his niece’s birthday party on Long Island.

Other than that, McGowan says, “it’s very early, and I’m trying to get my head straight about just being out and living my life. Trying to get through each day.”

Village Voice article on Daniel’s dismissal from CMU lawsuit

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Daniel McGowan, Put In an Extreme Prison Isolation Unit For Writing Things, Loses Lawsuit Against Bureau of Prisons

by Anna Merlan

A New York environmental activist stuck in an extreme isolation unit for writing letters and publishing articles — and then re-jailed for writing about being put in that isolation unit in the first place — has had his lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons dismissed, a development he calls “gross and unjust.”

We’ve written before about Daniel McGowan, a 39-year-old environmental activist from Rockaway Beach, Queens who was once affiliated with the Earth Liberation Front, a group he says he left in the summer of 2001. He spent five and a half years in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, convicted of arson and conspiracy to commit arson, for trying to burn down two Oregon lumber yards in 2001, actions for which the ELF as a group claimed responsibility.

See also: Daniel McGowan Forbidden From Publishing Articles Without Permission

McGowan was released in December of 2012 and sent to a halfway house, where he was supposed to stay for six months before beginning three years of supervised release. But he was briefly re-imprisoned this April, three days after writing an article for the Huffington Post about his time in a Communications Management Unit, an experimental pod within the prison that drastically cut off his ties to the outside world.

McGowan explained in the Huffington Post piece that he landed in the CMU about a year into his prison bid, despite having a spotless disciplinary record. CMU rules drastically limited his access to phone calls and visits, as well as banning physical contact with his family and friends when they were allowed to see him. When his wife visited, they were separated by a thick pane of Plexiglass and a row of bars, communicating by phone.

In 2010, with help from the Center for Constitutional Rights, McGowan and several other CMU inmates filed suit against the Bureau of Prisons, challenging the constitutionality of CMUs and alleging that inmates were often assigned to them for their political beliefs, a practice which the CCR called “discriminatory and retaliatory.” In McGowan’s case, he and the CCR believed he’d been stuck in the CMU for writing letters and articles, which were still, when last we checked, constitutionally protected First Amendment activities.

As memos released during the suit revealed, he was right. They showed that McGowan was tossed in the CMU in large part for writing articles and letters about animal rights, as well as the need to unite the animal liberation and Earth liberation movements. Les Smith, a chief in the BOP’s Correctional Programs division, wrote that McGowan’s communications needed to be monitored constantly:

Inmate McGowan’s communications warrant heightened controls and review due to the fact that he was an organizer of [Earth Liberation Front]; wrote communiques for ALF/ELF actions; used coded communications during the commission of the offenses; participated in the recruitment of others into the group; espoused his anti-government beliefs verbally and in written communications; trained others to design and construct incendiary devices as well as how to conduct arson without being caught; and demonstrated the ability to plan, organize and carry out his plans without detection.While incarcerated and through social correspondence and articles written for radical publications, Inmate McGowan has attempted to unite the radical environmental and animal liberation movements.


Three days after the HuffPo piece went live, on April 4, McGowan was picked up from his Brooklyn halfway house and locked up at the Metropolitan Detention Center. After one night, he was re-released to the halfway house, but with a new condition: no publishing articles.

“As far as we know, this is a made-up rule applied only to Daniel,” the CCR wrote in a press release, “in a further attempt to chill his freedom of speech.”

On June 5, McGowan was released from the halfway house, to go home to his wife and begin his supervised release. “I am out of the reach of the Bureau of Prisons,” he says. He’s now working as a receptionist in a law firm. On Tuesday, as Courthouse News first reported, Senior U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein dismissed McGowan from the BOP lawsuit, under the logic that his release from prison has made his standing to bring the case moot. Only one CMU inmate remains in the lawsuit, Kifah Jayyousi, who was convicted of aiding Al-Qaeda.

The Center for Constitutional Rights said it was “deeply disappointed” by the dismissal of McGowan’s suit. It added that a portion of the suit was dismissed under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, a 1996 federal law that makes it very difficult to prisoners to sue the government for damages unless they’ve been physically injured. The CCR refers to this as a “second-class system of justice.”

“I have to say, I find the dismissal severely disappointing,” McGowan told us via email yesterday. “That my claims can be dismissed on what amounts to a technicality is just a sad example of how badly our system of justice works. The PLRA essentially states
that prisoners cannot seek relief from the courts for emotional or mental injuries, only physical injuries. There is something very gross and unjust about that. After spending 48 months in the CMU, I’m appalled that I will not get my day in court and be able to testify about what it is like to live in those conditions and the severe impact CMU designation has on one’s family and community ties.”

Send story tips to the author, Anna Merlan.