What the Elle? When corporate media tackles anarchism, the FBI, informants, and the ELF
Perhaps Andrea Todd deserves a little credit. She was, after all, attempting to write an article about someone who lies for a living. Getting true, accurate information from such a source can be difficult at best, impossible at worst.
Which, of course, makes the subject matter of the article on page 266 of Elle Magazine's May issue inherently problematic to begin with. When Andrea decided to write an article for Elle Magazine about "Anna," the informant in the case of Eric McDavid, she took on a difficult task indeed. How do we get a clear picture of who "Anna" actually is and what role she actually played in the creation of the case of Eric McDavid? To do this, we need to dig a bit deeper, engage in some critical thinking, and connect a few dots.
Who is Anna?
She's there - on page 266! With a look of sly disdain on her face and a smile just ready to curl up the sides of her face. But not quite. How did she get there? It's baffling, really, since in September 2007, great pains were taken to conceal her identity in a stuffy, federal courtroom in Sacramento, CA. White noise was played over the speakers as she was sworn in, so none present would hear her real name. Courtroom artists were not allowed to draw her face. A spectator was nearly booted from the room when it was suspected that they might have been attempting to take her picture with their cell phone. And Eric's lawyer - Mark Reichel - was only able to learn her true name one week before trial, making any meaningful investigation of her ultimately impossible. It was claimed that Anna's identity had to be kept hidden because her life was being threatened by radical "eco-terrorists" who were angry with her for entrapping their friends and comrades. But the half-page, full body picture of Anna on page 266 - in an internationally distributed magazine - would certainly seem to belie that line of argumentation. (As well as other events in recent history - such as the known identity of the person responsible for the arrests of almost a dozen of his former friends in the northwest, Jake Ferguson. Jake has been walking the streets of the dreaded Eugene - seen by many as a "hot-bed" of "shadowy anarchist" groups since the WTO protests in Seattle, 1999 - for years now, and no harm has ever come to him.)
So why all the hubbub? And why the sudden shift in security consciousness? One has to question the validity of claims made by both Anna and the government about threats to her safety. And, of course, we then have to question why those false claims were made in the first place. Like most things related to this case, it seems apparent that the secrecy surrounding Anna's true identity was just part and parcel of the larger story manufactured by the government - a secrecy that implied her heroism and courage in front of the jury, while simultaneously creating a sense that Eric and his friends were menacing, dangerous individuals with sinister plans for Anna's demise. And, again, with Eric's lawyer only knowing her true identity a week before trial, nobody could do any meaningful investigation about Anna - which, in an entrapment case, is necessary and elemental to a fair trial (not that anyone has any illusions about that actually happening...).
But that's not all we need to question. Like most claims made by Anna, the FBI, and the prosecution in Eric's case, there is no real concern for the truth - only for intriguing, self-aggrandizing stories about fabricated crimes, heroes and heroines (Anna and the FBI, of course), and nefarious bad guys (anarchists and environmentalists, of course). These gross oversimplifications mask a startling truth - which is that the government will stop at nothing in their targeting and pursuit of specific groups of people with particular beliefs and values.
And why shouldn't they? These are the very people who call into question the foundation of all that the "heroes" lives are built upon - Capitalism, oppression, racism, the destruction of the environment, and a system of governance that values the lives of certain people over the lives of everyone else - indeed, over the life of the planet. When looked at through the lens of history, none of the government's actions in this particular case should seem new or surprising. In fact, that unsettled feeling you may be experiencing in your guts probably comes from an extreme sense of déjà vu... .
As attorney Ben Rosenfeld points out in the article, people are being targeted for their ideology - a direct reflection of the FBI's change of focus from crime solving to crime prevention. But this change of focus has profound impacts on a variety of constitutional issues, and the implications are all too reminiscent of the ideas found in George Orwell's 1984. In particular, the use of the term "thought crime" seems poignantly and painfully relevant here. People being threatened with 20 years in jail for a crime that was never committed. For allegedly thinking about committing a crime. Or, for having a planted informant fabricate a crime and implicate them in it...
But back to the case at hand. So while we may never know exactly WHO Anna is - and by that we mean her true name, her true history, her true background - we certainly know how she got here. She got here through the great efforts of the FBI, who made it their mission years ago to target and entrap those individuals and groups they deemed "domestic terrorist threats" - namely anarchists and environmentalists. But to do that they needed someone who could easily slip in and out of gatherings and meetings, spokescouncils and protests. Someone who could lie and manipulate and forge friendships under false pretenses. They needed someone who could, as Eric's lawyer phrased it during trial - "herd cats." Who could fabricate a crime and then push and cajole the others into it, keeping them "on track" and pushing them to "stick to a damned plan" when they were clearly faltering. Someone who could garner the trust and love of the people around her, then serve up the ultimate betrayal.
What kind of person does this? To know a person for two years - to get into the personal details of their life and then use the hook of romance to further draw them in? This type of behavior would seem schizophrenic and sociopathic if removed from it's current context (think about Anna's comments in the article regarding her attendance at Lauren's art show, not as an undercover agent, but as a "friend"? A friend wearing a body wire, of course... ). But that is what we have been asked to do, and in doing so, we have been asked to sever those parts of our selves that are essential to our humanity, to living our lives in relationship with other human beings and creatures and the earth. If they are successful, and if we allow this separation to exist, then Anna's story just might make sense to us. But if we maintain our integrity, if we remember what it means to be living, breathing creatures who care about other people and emote and feel, then Anna's story becomes a disgusting reflection of human beings at their very worst.
If Andrea Todd had attended Eric's trial, she might have been more fully equipped to ferret out the lies and inaccuracies that Anna fed her. Anna knows how to tell a good story - complete with the hyperbole and exaggeration necessary to create drama where none previously existed. For example, in the article Anna tells Andrea that her parents probably thought she was selling drugs. Where else would the $65,000 + she was paid by the FBI have come from (keep in mind, assuming this part of her story is true, which we realize is a large assumption, that Anna was only 17 when she started working for the FBI. $65,000 is a huge sum of money for a person of any age - let alone a 17 year old... )? But during trial, it was claimed that Anna's parents had to give their permission for her to engage in this "work," as she was still a minor, and younger than the FBI's requirements for such operations. Perhaps the latter is the lie, but regardless of which is true and which is false, she was clearly lying to someone. And why lie about such a mundane detail? If Anna so easily fabricates stories about seemingly insignificant details, how could we possibly trust her honesty regarding more serious matters - when her own ass is on the line, or when she's being pressured by the government to tell a specific story?
And there most definitely was a specific story. In fact, the government and the FBI went to great lengths to construct this story, fabricate a crime, and entrap Eric and his former friends. Listening to the tapes played at trial (and this is evident even in the tiny portions of transcripts Andrea includes in her article), it is abundantly clear that Anna was the driving force behind the so-called "cell." Any time there is even a hint of dissension, Anna is there to tell the others that they are "copping out," that she wants them to "stick to a plan," to pick a specific target, to work harder and faster. She is relentless in her mission to get them on tape saying damaging things - even if she has to coax it out of them with full-on screaming fits of rage and harassment. And these conversations would not have happened in the first place if the group had not been in the same place at the same time - a feat only accomplished when Anna piled Zach and Lauren into a car supplied to her by the FBI and drove them all the way across the country to join Eric in California (this was after she had previously paid for Lauren to fly across the country to meet them in November). She paid for gas. She paid for groceries. She paid for the cabin they lived in. She paid for the computers they used. She paid for supplies. She was apparently the only one able to actually acquire "recipes" for bombs. Anna created a conspiracy, at the behest of the FBI, and tried her damnedest to draw the others into it. When it became clear that her attempts were failing, the FBI swooped in and made arrests before the entire case fell apart.
During trial, after Eric's lawyer questioned Anna on the stand for almost a full day and it was obvious that their carefully constructed story was not standing up to scrutiny, the prosecution suddenly pulled a story out of Anna about Eric wielding a knife over her as she slept. This was a transparently obvious attempt to smear Eric in front of the jury and use fear as a force for conviction. Anna had been on the stand for almost two days and this story had NEVER surfaced. Why now? When Eric's lawyer questioned her about it she claimed that she fell back asleep afterwards. What? Who among you would turn over and go back to sleep if you seriously thought that someone you felt threatened by was waving a knife over you as you slept? And if the FBI was watching it unfold, as they say they were, why didn't they enter the house (especially if they were so quick to jump into action during the spider incident)? And perhaps most tellingly, why was the government completely unable to produce any evidence that it ever happened? In a house that was completely bugged with audio and video equipment, one would think they could have produced a tape showing this particular incident. But none ever surfaced. Nor were there any written reports about the incident (even though the written reports detailed everything else that happened - from cooking dinner to reading books to talking about movies). Clearly, this story was completely fabricated by the government in a desperate attempt to get Eric convicted. (The government also claimed that Eric threatened to kill Anna if she was a cop during a car ride to Chicago - an alleged statement that was also conveniently not captured on tape...)
Another interesting aspect of this particular article is how, by default, it panders to the government's definitions of an entire community of people. It characterizes "anarchists" as dirty, smelly, unorganized, secretive, "eco-terrorists." All of which, when evaluated by the public at large, would lend itself to negative perceptions of a vastly disparate group of individuals. Characterizing the G8 summit as an "extremist hotspot" is laughable and ridiculous (unless, of course, one is speaking of the folks with personal invitations to attend the summit). And claiming that crimethinc convergences are so secretive and insular as to require a personal invitation from someone in order to attend is easily recognizable as a dramatic lie. All one needs to do is visit crimethinc's website to see that these gatherings are open to anyone willing to show up - including, apparently, FBI informants. In another Green Scare case, which Andrea mentions briefly, the government attempted to paint the accused in a negative light by suggesting that they called themselves "The Family" (a moniker with obvious implications) - a claim that the defendants vociferously denied.
But even Anna had some positive things to say... She was quite fond of how the "movement" respects women and puts them on equal footing with men. A characteristic she apparently found to be lacking within the FBI. Perhaps she was considering, if only for a moment, joining the dark side....
Perhaps the most damaging of labels found herein is the repeated use of the word "eco-terrorist." There is a complete absence of critical thought about what that word actually means, why it is used by the government in the first place, or the implications it carries for those who fall prey to the government's labeling campaign. Terrorism is a highly charged, powerful word which carries vivid and painful emotional content. Andrea points out that the ELF and ALF have carried out thousands of actions without ever harming a single creature - including humans. (This whole line of thinking however, assumes that Anna's conspiracy could even be considered an ELF action, as it was clear from the tapes that the group had never made a decision to carry out an action, let alone claim it as an ELF action.) By labeling environmentalists "terrorists" the government can claim victory in the political realm and the fight against "terrorism" - allowing them to continue pouring billions of dollars into an unwinnable fight against an idea. And, of course, against the brown skinned folks who they claim represent that idea. When stripped of this hyperbolic language, what Eric has been accused of is conspiracy to commit property destruction. Other people who are accused of actually carrying out such crimes spend an average of 5 years in jail. Eric is facing 20 for allegedly thinking about committing such crimes.
Language is powerful, and buying into the government's manipulations of it can have hidden but devastating consequences. "Eco-terrorist" is a label that could be evaluated and scrutinized for pages and pages. The use of the word "extremists" could be similarly picked apart (replacing Eric's name with the word "extremist" forces a view of him as an other, instead of as an individual with complex thoughts and emotions). Many folks have written quite eloquently about who these terms should and shouldn't be applied to (hint: Who is destroying our forests? Polluting our water? Spewing toxic chemicals into the very air we breathe?), so we'll save our breath and your eyes for the time being. All we ask is that you think about whose interests it serves to use this kind of language.
The article also claims that after Eric, Lauren and Zach's arrest, ELF groups "rallied" to support them. This seemingly benign statement carries significant implications in it's multiple assumptions. It assumes that the ELF is a cohesive, identifiable group of people. It is not. It assumes that prisoner support - a legal and necessary form of assistance to prisoners dealing with politically motivated prosecutions - is driven and run by the ELF. It is not. It also seems to imply that Eric and his former co-defendants were, in fact, members of the ELF - something the government tried to convince the jury of throughout Eric's trial (a difficult task indeed, as there was clearly no agreement among the group about such matters). And labeling the group an ELF cell is necessary for the prosecution to pursue the Terrorism Enhancement at Eric's sentencing. If successful in this mission, the government could turn what could otherwise be a 5 year sentence into a 20 year sentence.
And, of course, the jurors.... Where does one even begin? Their decision to convict Eric makes perfect sense within the context of this cult(ure). They clearly felt like, given the dictates of the law by someone in a position of authority, they had no other choice. Even though they knew they were making the wrong one. Even though their hearts told them what was right. They chose to ignore that - to ignore what makes them human - and voted to ruin another person's life. Why? Because they were "tired" and "wanted to go home." Eric wants to go home, too... and his family, friends and loved ones eagerly await his return.
Perhaps Anna's story is most shocking in that it calls into question the true source of "criminal" activity - how many "domestic terrorism" prosecutions these days are actually a direct result of government informants? A quick perusal of recent cases readily reveals that this is true in an alarming number of them. The Liberty City Seven case in Miami (which resulted in a two hung juries), the Fort Dix 6 case (ongoing), and the case of Shahwar Matin Siraj (in New York City, he was found guilty) are just a few recent examples of the government creating a case against someone, where none previously existed.
Please remember that the story in Elle is told from a very narrow perspective - that of "Anna." A paid liar who had no qualms about destroying the lives of three people who cared about her, who let her into their hearts and shared their most personal selves with her. This is only part of the story....
For more information on Eric McDavid and his case, you can visit his website at www.supporteric.org
contribute to this article
add comment to discussion
view discussion from this article