Ending his struggle against a police witch-hunt under the notorious Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA), activist Scott DeMuth took a plea bargain deal September 13. The plea avoided a trial for which he could have faced three years in prison. Scott pled guilty to one misdemeanor conspiracy to commit animal enterprise terrorism for his role in the April 29, 2006 Animal Liberation Front (ALF) raid on Lakeside Ferrets, Inc., in Howard Lake, Minnesota. The plea was to a lesser-included charge of his felony indictment and carries a maximum of six months in prison and a period of supervised release. The government has agreed to ask for a sentence of the full six months in prison, but not to ask for the imposition of any fine. However, this is NOT a cooperating plea agreement; Scott has not been asked to testify against anyone else, nor would he do so. Scott’s sentencing has been scheduled for December 15, 2010, with a surrender date likely to be set for early 2011. In the meantime, the government raised no objection to his continued release and agreed to the removal of his electronic monitoring.
Though Scott has accepted responsibility for the Lakeside Ferrets raid, we fundamentally disagree with the government’s position that such acts of liberation warrant punishment, and we do not believe that the resolution of this case is a simple matter of guilt versus innocence. As happened with Scott, people are routinely threatened with overblown charges, disproportionate sentencing, and threats to their friends should they exercise their right to a trial, in order to coerce guilty pleas. In this case, Assistant US Attorney Cliff Cronk subpoenaed Carrie Feldman and Sonja Silvernail to testify at Scott’s trial. Both Carrie and Sonja decided that they would refuse to testify, meaning that they would almost certainly have been held in contempt of court and could have been incarcerated for months or even years (there is no maximum sentence for criminal contempt). Thus, the risks associated with Scott going to trial included not only his own possible conviction and imprisonment, but also that of two friends and comrades.
We also think it is important to remind everyone of the way this case began, as it reveals much more about the system than does the resolution. In August of 2008, a multi-agency investigation into anti-RNC protest activity in the Twin Cities culminated in raids, arrests and conspiracy charges against eight anarchist organizers. As Special Agent Maureen Mazzola testified to on the stand in Scott’s pre-trial hearing, the FBI used the pretext of this raid as a fishing expedition, searching Scott’s room for anything linking him to “criminal activities” that fell well outside of the scope of the search warrant being executed. In this process, Mazzola came across a journal that she mistakenly believed linked him to the 2004 ALF raid at the University of Iowa (UI). FBI agents later reviewed this and other seized materials, including his computer, and we believe that at some point in the year after the RNC, they began communicating with US Attorneys’ offices throughout the Midwest in hopes that the items taken would lead to some sort of prosecution.
Apparently, the only office that bit was Cronk’s, and he began a zealous effort to inject new life into the case around the 2004 UI raid. In the fall of 2009, he subpoenaed Carrie and Scott to a federal grand jury, offering them immunity in exchange for their testimony. They refused to cooperate and were jailed in Iowa on civil contempt, where Carrie stayed for four months before being released with no real explanation. After only a few days in jail, Scott was indicted for conspiracy to commit “animal enterprise terrorism” and accused of having some involvement in the 2004 UI raid. Likely due to the fact that Scott was not guilty of this, the original indictment (and, later, the first superseding indictment) failed to establish what Scott was actually alleged to have done to conspire. Cronk deftly avoided dealing with the problem by issuing superseding indictments each time Scott’s attorneys filed motions to dismiss, rendering the arguments moot. But at some point in all of this, Cronk became aware of evidence linking Scott to the 2006 Lakeside Ferrets raid, and in the second superseding indictment, he tacked this action on to the alleged conspiracy, hoping that Scott’s involvement in it could be used to finally convict someone for the UI raid. In the end, Cronk has had to settle for a guilty plea to a lesser offense, one that occurred outside of his district and which had no connection to the case he wanted to build. The raid on the University of Iowa remains unsolved, and it is clearer than ever that the case Cronk originally brought against Scott was abusive, vindictive and lacking in any factual basis.
In an era where “fighting terrorism” is the justification of choice for all manner of racist, xenophobic and COINTELPRO-type assaults on marginalized communities, the reality we face as radicals is that we are all terrorists in the eyes of the state. Evidence linking Scott to the Lakeside Ferrets raid had apparently existed for several years, but the fact that this wasn’t important enough for the government to pursue until four years later demonstrates how little his misdemeanor activity in and of itself really mattered at all. The more significant truth in this case is that the state criminalizes political dissent and targets individuals and communities because of their political beliefs and associations, with a single-minded dedication to locking people up and little concern for the truth. And in their dedication to destroying any movement that threatens their hegemony, law enforcement and prosecutors collaborate in throwing mountains of shit at the wall just to see what sticks. The mere fact of Scott’s vocal support for radical actions and ideas made him a target of the FBI several years ago, and he was swept up in a case that he had nothing to do with simply because he lived in a house with other anarchists, who themselves have been singled out by the state for their politics.
While we’re of course glad that Scott is no longer facing the possibility of three years in prison, those of us who have supported him throughout this process find little cause for celebration at this moment. Nonetheless, we support Scott in his decision, we urge others to do the same, and we are proud to stand in solidarity with him and all those who take radical action in defense of animals and against systems of exploitation.
However, Scott still faces large legal expenses. We ask all (who are able) to help us meet this need. Donations can be made through our support website or checks or money orders can be made out to Coldsnap Legal Collective with “EWOK!” in the memo line and sent to EWOK! c/o Coldsnap, P.O. Box 50514, Minneapolis, MN 55405. Lastly, we would like to say thank you to everyone who has shown support for Scott, Carrie, and Sonja over the months since the initial subpoenas.
For more info on Scott’s and Carrie’s situations, including court docs such as Scott’s plea, and to donate to Scott’s legal defense fund, visit davenportgrandjury.wordpress.com.