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August 2006
New York Activist Faces Life in Prison
By Friends and Family of Daniel McGowan

 

Daniel McGowan.
Photo By Jenny Synan

On December 7th, 2005, Daniel McGowan, a highly respected and long-time environmental and social justice activist from New York, was unjustly arrested by federal marshals as part of a nationwide crackdown on activists. He is being charged in federal court with multiple counts of arson, property destruction and conspiracy, relating to two direct actions that occurred in Oregon in 2001. Daniel maintains his innocence and has pled not guilty to all charges. He is facing a minimum of life in prison if convicted on all counts.

Daniel’s arrest is part of “Operation Backfire,” a well-coordinated, multi-state sweep of environmental activists by the federal government. Many of the charges, including Daniel’s, are for cases whose statute of limitations were about to expire. Fifteen people have since been indicted by a grand jury on 65 charges in connection with 17 direct actions that took place between 1996 and 2001 in Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado and Wyoming. This FBI offensive appears as just the beginning of a nationwide ‘green scare.’

The Green Scare
The term ‘green scare’ was first introduced in 2002 in the zine Spirit of Freedom referring to tactics used by the U.S. government to attack environmental and social justice activists. In the U.S. today, ‘terrorism’ has replaced ‘communism’ as the catchphrase for all the evils in the world. Where the red scare once saw leftwingers stigmatized as ‘communists,’ today we have a green scare where environmentalists and animal rights activists are being targeted as ‘eco-terrorists’ by the media, business interests and politicians—including Attorneys General Gonzales and Ashcroft. Since 2001, there has been a rise in the number of environmentalists arrested and a dramatic lengthening of the potential sentences they face. Activists who have never physically harmed or injured anyone now risk being arrested and charged with crimes carrying life sentences (or, in some cases, a charge sheet that could result in a 300-plus year prison sentence).

Similar to the campaign of Senator Joe McCarthy and the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) of the 1950s, today, legislators, property rights advocates and industry spokespeople are using threats and propaganda to crush political resistance. History is repeating itself and one cannot help but wonder which of our friends and family will be next.

Anti-Terror Legislation
In the current political climate, it is virtually impossible for the accused to get a fair trial once the specter of ‘terrorism’ has been raised. This climate of fear is reinforced by legislative changes that have considerably broadened the definition of a ‘terrorist.’ Lobbying by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful right wing advocacy group funded by over 300 corporations, is successfully pushing for legislation defining terrorism as an act by ‘two or more persons organized for the purpose of supporting any politically motivated activity intended to obstruct or deter any person from participating in an activity involving animals or natural resources.’ It includes such acts as property defacement—which is already illegal—within the scope of terrorism, and holds the potential to include other forms of legal protest within the same definition. So far ten states have already passed legislation defining the destruction of property as terrorism. Additionally, fake grassroots groups, or “astroturf” groups like the deceptively-named Stop Eco Violence, the Center for Consumer Freedom and the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, have organized letter writing campaigns to Northwest politicians lobbying to push legislation that would increase penalties for environmentalist direct action.

At a federal level, Section 802 of the USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act defines domestic terrorism as an act which intends to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population,” “influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion,” or “affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.” But, as the American Civil Liberties Union has pointed out, the breadth of the first two definitions means that “Greenpeace, Operation Rescue, Vieques Island and WTO protesters, and the [Earth] Liberation Front have all recently engaged in activities that could subject them to being investigated as engaging in domestic terrorism.” Although none of the defendants in this case are technically charged with domestic terrorism, the government has used the term extensively in the media to discredit the activists involved.

The larger aim of such legislation is to spread fear and distrust in the activist community with the hope that it will act as a deterrent and make it hard for us to support our friends and family when they are targeted. It is essential that we combat this misrepresentation of our movement and not allow people who are arrested to fade away and be forgotten. These legal (and illegal) measures look likely to make an already bad situation worse. There are now so many pending cases against activists that it is impossible to mention them all here. We urgently need to provide arrested activists with moral support so they know that people are aware of their situation and feel less isolated, and we need to ensure that fear does not spread as our movement continues to be targeted under this green scare.

An Activist in Need
For years Daniel McGowan was behind the scenes keeping countless campaigns afloat. He worked on old growth protection campaigns, fighting to keep trees over 2,000 years old from becoming toilet paper. He ran successful Burma divestment campaigns. He did extensive education and press work about genetically modified organisms. He provided active support for indigenous people, including the Dineh, the Ogoni and the U’wa people, all the while supporting political prisoners all over the world. During the 2004 Republican National Convention, Daniel decided to publicly organize demonstrations, fundraisers and benefit shows as part of the RNCnotwelcome.org protest mobilization.

Daniel is an expressive, caring, thoughtful and compassionate person and his tireless dedication and support for political prisoners makes it all the more moving that we are now being called upon to provide the same support for him.

To find out how you can help Daniel McGowan, visit www.supportdaniel.org and email friendsofdanielmcg@yahoo.com to receive regular updates. To learn more about the green scare see www.greenscare.org. If you would like to write to Daniel, please send your letter of support to: Daniel McGowan, P.O. Box 106, New York, NY 10156.


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