Daniel McGowan
Daniel McGowan
Daniel McGowan
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Archive for April, 2008

Focus on: Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC)

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

It is an unfortunate fact but during the course of my legal case, my codefendants and I received very little organizational support from the environmental and social justice movements. While prisoner support groups like ELPSN (UK) and ABCF and legal organizations like the National Lawyers Guild and Center for Constitutional Rights were quick to extend their solidarity, the environmental movements’ silence was palpable. Other than Forest Ethics and some Earth First! groups, there was nothing but private support offered; an inability to organize a response to the terrorist enhancement and at worst, condemnation offered from NGO heavyweights, Rainforest Action Network, Ruckus Society and Greenpeace[1]. While this speaks volumes about our movement’s conception of solidarity and the discomfort expressed by non-profit organizations in dealing with cases of property destruction, this is beyond the scope of this blog entry[2]. One group that did not act like the previously named groups and went well beyond the call of duty is the Civil Liberties Defense Center based out of Eugene, Oregon.

A tiny, young organization funded by environmental lawyer and activist (and I’m proud to say, a good friend of mine) Lauren Regan, the CLDC had the Operation Backfire defendants’ backs from day one[3]. During the chaotic weeks following the first wave of arrests in December 2005, the CLDC made valiant attempts to find lawyers for all the defendants and quickly became a hub for families of defendants, lawyers and media contacts. Sitting in Lane County Jail, just 3 blocks from their office, I took solace knowing there were local lawyers advocating for us, keeping everyone well informed through conference calls and providing a local and long-term perspective (being that they lived in Eugene during the time of the conspiricy 1996-2001).

As the case progressed, I was freed on bail, returned to New York and relied on the CLDC’s extensive court reports and posting of legal documents. I devoured the court reports and was able to determine which codefendant started to cooperate at which time and better determine my chances of success at trial. When people ask me what it is that defendants in those cases need, I reply that it’s the unglamorous and tedious work that the CLDC does, sitting in court for hours concentrating hard and taking copious notes, getting those court reports and analysis posted on sites like Portland Indymedia, monitoring databases for relevant court documents, legal research, setting up a local media collective and press strategy and visiting people regularly at the jail. The support was invaluable with the preparation of my defense and helped my wife, family and NYC support group make sense of the case and develop solid and powerful defense strategies.

Now, don’t mistake the CLDC for some large, well-funded outfit based on their impressive resume. They are a few lawyers, an office and a dedicated crew of volunteers operating on a shoe-string budget. Since I have been imprisoned, I have relied on their work to keep up on Green Scare cases like Briana Waters and the campaign to repeal the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. The CLDC is one model of how an organization can provide support for complex legal cases and free the defendants and their families to deal with the pressure of the case itself.

Please support the CLDC with their ongoing work if you are able. On their site, cldc.org, you can make a donation or send a check to them at Civil Liberties Defense Center/ 259 East 5th Avenue, Suite 300 A/ Eugene, Oregon 97401. Don’t forget— if you are arrested for an offense like mine or face a grand jury subpoena, do not hesitate to call the CLDC at 541.687.9180 or the NLG’s hotline at 888-NLG-ECOLAW.


[1]Many contacts were made by my support group to RAN and Ruckus Society directly through email, to people on RAN’s board of directors and informally to staff of both organizations. RAN, at least, expressed support privately. Board member Jodie Evans, in particular, expressed support and committed to raising this issue with her executive director. A staff member of RAN commited to writing a letter from RAN regarding the terrorist enhancement issue and never did. Ruckus Society members/staff never once responded to emails, informal contacts, or info packets sent to them. Greenpeace’s director, John Pascantando, took it further condemning us publically— you can read a criticism of that statement in an article by Michael Donnelly on Counterpunch.org from 2006.

[2]What is sad is that defendants in this case had professional relationships with RAN and Ruckus. I had worked on the Mitsubishi, Home Depot and U’wa campaigns RAN organized, getting arrested while committing civil disobedience and dedicating countless hours to these campaigns. I attended two of Ruckus Society’s action camps including the ‘Globalize This’ pre-Seattle/WTO camp with many of my codefendants. We also worked with the Direct Action Network to some extent in the months leading up to the WTO protests in 1999 (DAN was partially a creation of RAN, Ruckus Society, and other groups). Additionally, a fugitive in my case was a former trainer for Ruckus and local organizers in Seattle, employed by RAN, and dealt with harrassment and search of their former residence by the FBI related to this case. The links were many but the support from these groups was sorely lacking.

[3]The CLDC’s involvement begins well before December 7, 2005— the day of the first arrest in Operation Backfire. Lauren Regan represented an early target of the investigation in 2000/01 and participated in community efforts to protect the individuals who had received grand jury subpoenas.

Green Scare spring update

Monday, April 14th, 2008

There have been many updates since my last dispatch regarding the various legal cases that comprise the Green Scare against environmental and animal rights activists in the U.S. Please show support for these people as they are all in a tough situation— either recently indicted and fighting their charges, convicted by a jury (which gives the illusion of fairness) or facing sentencing and on the way to prison. The support I received (and continue to receive) made all the difference in my outlook and helped me face the case with eyes open and head held high. My apologies for the length of this update but I think it’s important to look beyond the urgent e-mails and remember, we’re talking about people here— not just names and potential sentences.

*In February 2008, Earth First! activist Marie Mason found a GPS tracking device on her car and when she removed it, plain clothes police sprang out with guns drawn. They called her 16 year old daughter by name even questioning why her routine changed (indicating some level of surveillance). Weeks after this incident, Marie was arrested and indicted on charges related to two acts of property destruction (arson) claimed by the Earth Liberation Front in 1999. While I have not read anything about 2 of the other defendants (or a fifth person “known to the grand jury”), it appears that Marie’s ex, Frank Ambrose, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the investigation. I remember Frank’s name from years ago when he was charged with spiking trees (an action meant to deter trees from being cut, not to harm loggers) in Indiana. I have no clue whether the indictment is true or not but I feel strongly that we support Marie as she is from our movement and has worked on environmental campaigns for years (most recently, on the campaign to stop the I-69 NAFTA superhighway). Also, like my case in Oregon, prosecutors in Michigan have trotted out the “terrorism” word to scare people and inflame public opinion against Marie. Although the fires in question were intended to destroy property and not harm people (based on a reading of the communiqué and a solid analysis of the arrest at greenisthenewred.com), the government is using the ‘T-word’ to tie the case to the nationwide anti-terrorism hoopla. Marie is currently out on bail and on house arrest and can surely use your support. To get involved contact Friends of Marie Mason, Post Office Box 19065, Cincinnati, Ohio 45219, freemarie at riseup dot net, or midwestgreenscare.org.

* Filmmaker, violin instructor and mother (of a three year old girl) Briana Waters was convicted by a jury of two counts of arson related to the May 2001 ELF arson of a genetic researcher’s office at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture. The trial saw two cooperating witnesses testify against Briana and many names were dropped by both witnesses. Despite the fact that both witnesses’ potential sentence was based on the quality of their testimony against Briana, the jury believed them and found her guilty of two counts of arson (but not the destructive device count which carried a 30 year mandatory minimum). She faces 5-10 years for each count of arson and is awaiting her May 28th sentencing at FDC-Sea-Tac (having lost her detention hearing due to unsubstantiated allegations made by another informant). Being separated from family is the worst part of prison and I’m sure she can use the support. You can find her address and ways to donate at supportbriana.org, PDX IMC, or through the CLDC.

*Environmentalist Tre Arrow was recently extradited from Canada to the U.S. following a years long battle for refugee status. Tre has vigorously maintained his innocence despite three cooperating witnesses’ claims that he was involved in two arsons in 2001 (it should be noted that all three of these people did not name Tre until being questioned for hours and they all received 41 month sentences for 2 arsons— quite a low sentence). He has a large and lively support group and I expect the trial will be interesting and revealing of the U.S. government’s myopia with these prosecutions. His website has a list of needs and his current prison address at trearrow.org.

* Long time activist Rod Coronado recently pleaded to charges in San Diego, California regarding a speech he gave in which he answered questions about his past actions. Although the jury hung in his trial, the prosecution, vindictively, threatened to re-file charges or indict him on new, similar charges related to another speech he made in Washington D.C. Rod received a sentence of 1 year, 1 day and with good time should be out in ten months. This is third trip to federal prison and from his statements, it is clear he wants to put this behind him. I first got involved in prisoner support in 1997 writing and fundraising for a legal fund Rod set up and have nothing but respect for him and his contributions to the movement. If you can get your hands on his old prison zines (Strong Hearts 1-4 available from inourhearts@gmail.com) do so, or better yet, get his prison fundraiser Flaming Arrows for $10 from IEF Press Post Office Box 0372, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514 or AK Press. supportrod.org

* Eric McDavid‘s sentencing has been postponed over five times— the latest is now set for May 8th. Eric faces up to 20 years on one count of conspiracy related to an incident that never happened (but was pushed and promoted by a 19 year old hired by the FBI to monitor anarchists). Eric’s case is a perfect example of the U.S. government’s obsession with the anarchist movement and their concoction of a conspiracy that did not exist prior to their employee’s involvement. Without a doubt, Eric will need help funding his appeal. See supporteric.org to help out.

* Finally, my codefendant and friend, Jonathan Paul, not only has a new website but is writing monthly dispatches. I’m sure he’d love to hear from people and appreciate news from the movement. You can also email his support crew at friendsofjonathanpaul at yahoo dot com to see if he needs any books or magazines. Because he is housed in Phoenix, Arizona— far from his home in Oregon, donations for his wife to visit him are appreciated.