For Immediate Release: June 6, 2007
Civil Rights Outreach Committee
Lauren Regan, Civil Liberties Defense Center, Eugene, OR, 541-687-9180
Oregon Eco-Sabotage Cases Unjust and Incomplete
Green Scare Investigations Continue in Other States
Eugene, OR--The last two of ten environmental and animal rights activists charged with crimes of property destruction in January 2006 were in federal court Monday and Tuesday for sentencing. The sentencing of one defendant, Jonathan Paul of Ashland, Oregon, was delayed while his attorney files an additional brief in response to Judge Aiken's questionable use of the federal sentencing guidelines. Daniel McGowan of New York was sentenced on Monday to 84 months in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of arson and one of conspiracy.
Sentencing in the Department of Justice's "Operation Backfire" cases began in federal court May 22 after a hearing May 15 to determine whether the government's arguments for applying a "terrorism enhancement" on some of the crimes of property damage would be taken into account. Judge Aiken made that determination separately for each individual crime for each defendant. The judge ruled that terrorism enhancements applied to four out of 20 incidents involving seven of the ten defendants. The enhancement could send the young activists to maximum-security prisons that house the country's most violent offenders.
Sentences ranged from three years for Darren Thurston to 13 years for Stan Meyerhoff. Jonathan Paul's sentence will be determined later this month. Information about all the sentences, charges and legal documents can be found on the Civil Liberties Defense Center website at www.cldc.org.
Civil rights attorneys monitoring the cases are alarmed by the vilification of environmentalists by government prosecutors and the overreaching use of the terrorism enhancement. Federal law indicates that destructive actions designed "to influence or retaliate against the government" meet the criteria. Prosecutors have complete discretion to utilize this enhancement, choosing to label environmental defendants as "terrorists" while right-wing crimes, including numerous murders against doctors who perform abortions, have not been labeled thusly by the Department of Justice. Judge Aiken interpreted the enhancement broadly, cobbling together connections among government agencies and the targets of the vandalism, primarily private businesses. None of the acts of property damage injured anyone.
"The rulings in these cases set a dangerous precedent for activists engaged in civil disobedience like those engaged in the historic Underground Railroad or lunch counter sit-ins," said Lauren Regan, attorney and director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene. "Many activists engage in lawful activities that seek to influence or affect the conduct of business or government—that's how change occurs in this country. When government is corrupted by corporate greed, the people and their attempts to save the environment and end senseless cruelty are often completely ignored.
"The government and the court both repeatedly tried to convince the public that the use of the terrorism enhancement was not 'political' nor intended to label these defendants as 'terrorists.' Neither statement could be farther from reality. Alberto Gonzalez and the FBI falsely accused a group of people that have never harmed a living thing as the 'number one domestic terrorist threat' to this country. That is laughable at this time in history and is simply being said for political gain. Whether you burn a building for insurance money or to save wild horses from horrific slaughter, the crime of arson should be prosecuted and punished equally. That is not the case with regard to these defendants. Anyone concerned with civil liberties should be scrutinizing the government's motivations in this case."
Though the Oregon cases have been mostly resolved, there are other cases in other states pending in what has become known as the "Green Scare" for its similarity to the "Red Scare" of the 1950s. The similarity being the government's use of secret grand juries and inflammatory rhetoric, and its apparent political motivation in targeting activists who oppose government conduct. Briana Waters will go to trial in Washington State in September, as will animal rights activist Rod Coronado of Arizona, who faces charges for a speech he gave in San Diego. Investigations into the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front continue across the country but will not deter the incredibly successful work of millions of environmental and animal rights activists who continue to work in the public's interest.