Darren Thurston Sentencing Report
Darren Thurston was sentenced today to 37 months (3 years, 1 month) for his part in an arson at Litchfield, California's BLM Wild Horse Corral. The terrorism enhancement was not applied in this case.
Darren Thurston Sentencing
Darren plead guilt to one count of Conspiracy in Oregon, and one count of Arson in the Eastern District of California for the Litchfield Wild Horse Corral action.
Asst. US Atty Stephen Peiffer opened the government's arguments by recalling Thurston's history as a radical environmentalist, saying that at age 20 he became involved in the radical animal rights movement and remained active till his arrest at age 36. Pieffer said that in 1991, he was involved in the burning of three trucks at a fish company, and a cat liberation (with David Barbarash) at the U. of Alberta. Pieffer said that in 1994, he went illegally to an Earth First! gathering in California where he met Jonathan Paul and Kevin Tubbs, and that in 1996 he met with Paul at an anti-fur protest in Seattle. He said that during that time, he also met Gina Lynn, whom he called an "animal rights extremist", and that the two did reconnaissance on fur farms in Oregon, Washington and California. That year, Thurston also published the first edition of "The Final Nail" , which Pieffer referred to as the "Bible" for animal rights "extremists", (which Thurston said he'd researched for 500 hours to produce) and which listed fur farms in the US and Canada. He said that Thurston also posted instructions for incendiary devices on the internet and updated the site with new fur farms, with help from Joseph Dibee.
Pieffer went on to say that Thurston did recon and planning for the 1997 BioDevices beagle liberation in Orange, California, and helped plan an arson at a San Diego taxidermist and meat company that was called off because the team was sighted by a homeless person. In 1998, Thurston was arrested and deported to Canada. In 1999, he became official spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front, where, until he passed the job on in 2001, he publicized 100-200 communiques which Peiffer said was relevant to his conspiracy charge.
He said in 2005, Thurston hosted a website on security and "dead drops" (the sharing of unsent emails through a common account), and that he authored "ALF: A Guide to Direct Action and the ALF" and "Arson Around with Auntie ALF", a manual on how to commit arson, which he distributed widely and posted on the internet, encouraging future arsons. According to Pieffer, Thurston had been working on publicizing actions with Craig Rosebraugh, including US Forest Industries, and in 2001 worked together to finalize the press release on the Vail action. Pieffer said Thurston mediated the dispute over the Jefferson Poplar communique, and met Chelsea Gerlach at that time (see Chelsea's sentencing notes for details).
As to Thurston's role in the Litchfield arson, Peiffer said that Joseph Dibee contacted Thurston and Rebecca Rubin about the action. He said that Thurston was also interested in Chelsea Gerlach, and thought maybe they'd meet again for the action. Thurston and Rubin illegally crossed the border and were picked up by Jennifer Kolar and brought to meet with Dibee to discuss the arson. Thurston expressed that he only wanted to be involved in the horse releases, and not the arsons themselves. He helped prepare for the action, setting up clean rooms to do so, and during the act itself, cut the fences and tried the herd the horses outside the fence, but had difficulty getting them to leave the corral. Peiffer said that Thurston aided and abetted the arson, and that the communique was coercive toward the BLM, and so the government was seeking the terrorism enhancement for the crime.
In 2005, he was arrested with Gerlach, with whom he was "romantically and criminally" involved. Pieffer said that he had been involved in numerous crimes prior to his arrest: selling drugs, illegal border crossings and illegally dwelling in the US. He said the Thurston and Gerlach had lived in San Francisco and Portland together, and that Gerlach had purchased firearms for Thurston at gun shows. He acquired fraudulent IDs from Tubbs and lived under the name Ian Holiday, and used a stolen credit card to purchase a computer. In 2003, he helped plan an action against a predator research center in Utah, and buried a cache of weapons with Gerlach. Pieffer then recounted how Thurston had been involved in demonstrating the use of HMTD (explosive) to a representative of the Zapatistas in Redway, CA.
Peiffer then said the government was asking for Thurston to he sentenced to 37 months, after conferring with the District of California prosecutor in the Ted Kaczinski case who agreed that the sentence, although appearing low, was just in a case where the defendant had cooperated so extensively. He said that Thurston was offered a substantial reduction for his minor role, and because he was only interested in releasing horses and being there for Chelsea. He said that Thurston had provided information about a "whole array of activities and other people", beyond what was called for in this investigation. The government's sentencing recommendation offered a 4 point downward departure for "minimum role". Judge Aiken interjected that Peiffer didn't need to argue that the sentence was just... that Thurston was lucky it did not depart upwards. Pretrial had asked that Thurston only be offered a downward departure of 2 points for "minor role", instead of the 4 point downward the government had recommended.
Defense attorney Dan Feiner started his argument by asking the court to remove the government's categorization of Thurston as a "white supremacist", mistakenly added by the government who do not know the distinction between Aryans and Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice, of which Thurston had been a part during a protest against Aryan Nation founder Metzger. The judge ruled that she would take it under advisement with regards to the sentencing recommendation.
Feiner argued against the terrorism enhancement as ex post facto (that the Patriot Act amended the statute regarding predicate crimes after the date of the conspiracy in 2001). He showed a photo of the Litchfield corral, that was really no more than "a hay barn in the desert" and pointed out where Thurston had cut the fences. He then addressed why Darren took a little while to cooperate, and explained that at the time of his arrest, he was only charged with INS violations, and didn't know if he was being charged with Litchfield. When Gerlach began cooperating and informed Thurston that she had spilled the beans on him, Thurston asked his attorney to pass along the message to Gerlach through her attorney that he understood and was okay with it even though it was detrimental to him. Feiner went on to describe the "moving" meeting between Gerlach and Thurston, who were never allowed a private conversation but were able to hold hands. Feiner said that Gerlach's urging him doesn't negate Thurston's decision to cooperate. He said the decision was drastic change of life for Thurston, that he had removed himself from all ties with the ALF/ELF, and would never be allowed to reintegrate because of his cooperation. Fiener said Thurston's role as "senior statesman" for the movement was over, and that he had withdrawn and resigned in all ways. He described Thurston's lawful activist roles, citing his involvement with Bear Watch in Canada, his teaching of computer skills to children, and his part in The Compassion Club in British Columbia working with terminally ill people. He said that since his arrest, Thurston has been studying for a vocation and wants to give back what he took from society. He looks forward to returning to Canada.
Feiner then read a letter from supporter Elaine Budlong who has been a weekly visitor of Thurston's since his arrest. In it, she wrote about how age makes you see things in other than "black and white". Feiner ended by saying that he wouldn't ask for a further reduction in sentence than the government's recommended 37 months, and that his client had been treated with respect.
Thurston then read his statement to the court, in which he commented to the judge that she had often used the phrase "actions speak louder than words" in these hearings, which was an axiom he had "lived by" for many years. He said that he did not blame others for his actions, and that all his actions had always been informed by the belief that all life is sacred. He said he realized arson created a danger for firefighters and that he has resigned from the ALF/ELF with no intent to ever go back in the future. He described his life experience: creating programs for kids, being a librarian, working on behalf of dolphins, and against trophy hunting and poaching. He said he had worked on behalf of the forests, against racism and bigotry, and on behalf of the poor and terminally ill. He said that his actions with the ALF/ELF had diminished all the positive work he had done. He promised that when released from prison, he would continue to act for social change, but in legal ways.
Judge Aiken responded by saying that no words he could say would change the agreed upon resolution. She said he was "gifted and bright", but that he had "squandered his impact as a leader". She said he had been sidetracked and "lured" into other activities, that he didn't pursue his education. She referred to the letter from Elaine Budlong, agreeing with her assessment that the world is much more complicated in the full context. She then said, "You're a CANADIAN. Aren't there any problems up there? Why come here to start problems? Take care of your OWN place, first. Don't be coming down here to start problems in OUR neck of the woods." She said "you're getting a sweet deal" and she hopes he gets a "do-over". She then read a passage from Thurgood Marshall's "A Defiant Life", whose message was that we are a "nation of laws" and that if laws are unjust, in a democracy there are legal means to go about changing them. She bemoaned the use of the Boston Tea Party as an analogy to the crimes of property destruction, asserting that the Boston Tea Party was about "taxation without REPRESENTATION" and said, "Ya'll HAD representation and could have worked through the government. None of you bothered to study this. While you were out releasing animals, Marshall was out freeing humans," she said. [No mention of the Underground Railroad... I'm just sayin'...] She said she would hold him accountable for all his unlawful actions to date, and that it was tragic to hold Thurston as "anything but a courageous person". As to his cooperation, she said that "those who truly love you will be there when you get out", and that it took time for him to cooperate because he had a lot of "terrible family secrets" to let go of. She then listed the sentencing calculations and said that she would entertain no downward departures because of his "scary past".
Judge Aiken sentenced Darren Thurston to 37 months, and did not apply the terrorism enhancement due to the remote location of the horse corral.
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