full story and comments:
November 9, 2012
It's been about six weeks since two anarchist activists
were thrown in a Seattle jail to force their testimony in a grand jury
hearing ostensibly convened as part of an investigation into vandalism at a
May Day rally. Neither activist has been charged with any crime, nor are
they suspects in the case. They are simply people who may or may not have
knowledge that could potentially help the FBI with its investigation.
Since their testimony could tend to incriminate themselves, their fellow
activists and the causes they stand for (that's the whole point of the
exercise, after all), the two activists have refused on principle to
participate. Now they could be locked up for as long as 18 months without a
single charge being filed against them, for doing nothing but refusing to
help the government crack down on their movement.
a separate grand jury was recently convened as part of another
investigation, this one into two 2008 firebombings at U.C. Santa Cruz that
the FBI has publicly blamed on animal rights activists. In 2009, federal
prosecutors secured indictments under the
Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act against four local activists for
activities such as marching, chanting, chalking sidewalks and creating
leaflets with the names and addresses of vivisectors on them (under the
AETA, First Amendment activities can be considered “terrorism” when aimed at
animal exploitation-based industries). A year and a half later, a federal
judge threw out the indictments for lack of specificity. Back at square one
again, the U.S. Attorney's office turned to its old stand-by tool of state
repression: the grand jury.
Grand juries are routinely used by
prosecutors and investigators to break social movements by turning activists
into informants on one another. Grand jury hearings are conducted in secret;
the proceedings are controlled by the prosecutor (there is no judge in a
grand jury hearing as the process precedes an indictment so there is no
'defendant,' per se); and typically attorneys (other than government
prosecutors) are not allowed. The process seems practically designed to
enable government fishing expeditions, and as one might imagine, grand jury
subpoenas have a profound chilling effect on political speech.
Jonathan Paul is a former Animal Liberation Front activist who spent 51
months in prison for his participation in the 1998 arson of a horse
slaughterhouse in Oregon. Prior to that arrest, he spent
five months in jail in the early 1990s after refusing to participate in
a grand jury proceeding. He was the second animal rights activist ever to be
locked up to coerce grand jury testimony, and his imprisonment was the
longest at that time in the history of the American animal rights movement.
I asked Paul to recount his experience and shed light on the coercive
process that is now being used against the Northwest Grand Jury resisters.
Describe your experience with the grand jury subpoena. Why did they target
you? What were they after?
The reason why they targeted me was quite
simple: foremost, I was an eco-animal activist, and second, at that time the
grand jury was focused on
Rod Coronado, who was on the run and was suspected of a number of ALF
actions around the country. Rod and I were friends and roommates at the
time. Also, in 1990, I was arrested for the 1987 liberation of 287 animals
from University of Oregon, although the charges were dropped with some very
well done legal wrangling. Although the grand jury was focused on Rod, in
many ways they also were looking into others and would take any information
they could on anyone else.
Did you consider cooperating, or did you know
from the start that you would not comply?
I never considered cooperating
and I knew the moment I was served with the subpoena from the two most
stereotypical looking FBI agents I had ever seen. Really, it was almost
comical. I knew from the start that I would never comply. Quite simply I am
not a snitch and never will be.
Besides threatening (and carrying out)
your imprisonment, what else did prosecutors do to try to compel you to
All they did was tell me I had to testify under law. I replied
that under the Constitution that with my freedom of speech I also had the
freedom not to speak. The judge did not like that and threw me in jail. In
the first hours I was thrown in a holding cell stripped naked and was
approached by the federal prosecuter and told that this was my last chance
to testify. I guess he was trying to humiliate me while I stood naked in the
cell but I in fact he did not. In our history, all over the world people and
political activists are tortured and even killed for their beliefs while I
was just fine, other than behind bars. To turn would be weak and
narcissistic at best.
What kind of a support network did you have within
the activist community? Did it make a difference in your resolve?
put in a cell and all alone is a tactic used to make people feel alone and
scared and compelled to testify. I felt empowered. I knew of all the
suffering happening to the animal nations and even other humans. I knew I
had a good life and turning on those who suffer because I was in a cell was
simply unacceptable. Having said that, however, it is imperative to have
support because we all need support and to know we are not alone. Even those
who stand firm and are strong still need the support.
You became sort of
a quasi-celebrity from your decision to refuse to cooperate. How did you
turn state coercion into a public relations coup? Do you think the symbolism
of your act helped the animal rights movement?
In the animal and
environmental movement I was the second after
Henry Hutto to be imprisoned for not testifying. Part of the resistance
to the grand jury process is public outreach as this unconstitutional and
fascist process spans to all walks of life, not just activists like me.
Those who worked on freeing Henry after 45 days of not talking worked on my
case so we knew the process better.
I think my resistance showed that
anyone could resist the grand jury. I am no superman as I am just another
person no different than anyone else in many ways. Really it is all about
commitment in your beliefs. Are you really a true activist for your cause?
Are you a government informant or are you an activist? If you feel that you
cannot stand up for your beliefs you really should reconsider whether being
an activist is for you.
Describe how grand jury subpoenas are used as a
tactic by law enforcement to break social movements.
This is quite simple
to answer. The grand jury process is an information gathering process that
includes forcing people to appear and testify under the fear of having your
freedom taken out from under you and at the same time not knowing when you
can get out especially if you choose not to testify. With the process super
secret it instills fear into people and disrupts from the inside. A sort of
mild COINTELPRO process.
What message or advice would you convey to the
Northwest Grand Jury resisters, based on your own experience?
All I can
tell you is that from my own experience I see the world in a very dark
place. Species extinction, the climate crisis, massive deforestation, dying
oceans, human overpopulation, human suffering, and the systematic and
continual torture, murder, and suffering of animals were at that time for me
very compelling reasons to not testify and turn on my movement and my fellow
activists let alone the animals and the planet. I saw the grand jury as a
strong arm of the government and corporations whose continual behavior will
destroy life as we know it on this planet. So for me to compromise my
beliefs so I could be free while others suffer in ways I have never or never
want to experience is narcissism at the highest level. I would never be able
to live with myself.