Newly Unsealed Documents in PNW Grand Jury Show Weak Evidence
The US Circuit Court in Seattle unsealed a search warrant and corresponding affidavit relating to the grand jury investigating anarchists thought to be involved in May Day protests in Seattle last year.
The revelation of the documents come from a motion that the National Lawyers' Guild filed on behalf of the Seattle Stranger, after the same documents were leaked to other Seattle news outlets in October, 2012. The government has maintained that it had “accidentally” placed the warrant in a public docket, where journalists were able to read the names of suspects named in the affidavit, but then quickly re-sealed the documents when it realized its “mistake.”
The story the documents tell has already been reported: six Portland anarchists who had been heavily surveilled by Federal agents and Portland police are alleged to have traveled to Seattle to participate in the protests. The government is trying to link those same people to the destruction of three glass doors at the William Kenzo Nakamura Courthouse, a federal appeals court, the attack on which, according to the affidavit, caused “tens of thousands of dollars” worth of damage. The warrant allows the search of electronics believed to belong to some suspected individuals that were seized on July 25, 2012.
Let's put this into perspective: The federal government announced this investigation by kicking in the doors of people around the Pacific Northwest on July 25, 2012. Federal agents assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, toting assault weapons, dragged people out of their beds in order to restrain them in their underwear, serve subpoenas and seize property as ordered by an earlier, and still unsealed, warrant. Not only did the warrants designate that black clothing, blacks flags and paint be seized, but also political literature.
Three people are in prison right now at FDC Seatac. Maddy Pfeiffer, Matt Duran and Katherine Olejnik. Duran has been in prison since September 14, 2001. Olejnik was next, on September 27. Pfeiffer was the latest to go in, on December 26. They are in prison for refusing to cooperate with the grand jury investigating May Day. After declining to testify, they were all granted immunity from prosecution and found in civil contempt for still refusing to incriminate others. All will be looking to make arguments that their detention is punitive and not coercive, but if they fail, they could be housed in federal prison for 18 months, each.
Over three glass doors. Three fucking glass doors.
The affidavit attached to the warrant includes testimony from Geoffery Maron, an FBI special agent assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force out of Seattle.
As to the “evidence” cited in the affidavit to implicate specific people? Transcripts of texts, a Zip car rental, and documents obtained by Portland cops when they raided squats, tying certain people to certain properties. Agent Maron guesses as to the identities of people he presumes were at May Day protests in Seattle based on generalizations about the height of some people and other physical attributes, comparing them with photos and video of May Day. Clothing items seized in the July 25 raids, those from a Portland police raid on a squat on May 3, 2012 and those being worn by individuals observed by the FBI attending a rally at Portland City Hall rally on April 9, 2012 are said to belong to certain participants in the May Day black bloc. Maron also obtained information on “known” anarchists from Portland police. How do you get to be a “known anarchist?” Be suspected of vandalism and attend a protest to keep a killer cop fired, according to this report. The whole thing comes together based on heavy surveillance and inter-agency collusion, basically the exercise of the JTTF. Portland decided to join the Joint Terrorism Task Force in April of 2011 after a decade of refusing to do so, making these partnerships a reality.
If this is all the evidence they have thus-far, then they don't have a lot. Maron claims to have been present in Seattle on May Day, though exactly what he witnessed is unclear. He says that authorities were unable to tail the suspects to Seattle and identify the suspects named in the affidavit if and when they were changing into black clothing at Westlake Park. If certain articles of clothing are the government's only evidence, at this point, that ties any individuals to participation in the black bloc, it would be generally consistent with them seizing articles of clothing. Consistent clothing may be enough to obtain indictments; five people being charged for their actions on May Day being charged in King County, Washington were indicted based on similar evidence: clothing, identifying features. It could also be why they need someone desperately to give testimony, and why, without that testimony, the investigation could fall apart.
The government has to establish that suspects traveled from Oregon to Washington, and also establish that those people rioted. To get the destruction of government property conviction, they have to place those people at the courthouse, smashing away. To get the attached conspiracy charge, they have to prove that those people planned to do so. The report mentions a lot of shit about “teardrop-shaped backpacks,” belts, people being left-handed and a Wikipedia definition of what anarchism is.
That is not intimidating.
What this says is that black bloc works: the prosecution will have a much harder time establishing the identities of those who participated in the black bloc than they will protesters who did not conceal their identities and are facing charges in King County. If this document teaches us anything, it's: don't wear clothing you've worn before to a demo, and throw your clothes away when you're done with them. Shoes, too.
Also, the government has text message transcripts from suspects, taken from a phone seized on May 3, but they're pretty vague; the suspects talk about cutting a bandanna out of a t-shirt before the protests and inquire as to the safety of others the night of May 1. While a longer text sent before May Day says one suspect can “meet” others “at westlake and form a loose Portland bloc,” it does not prove that suspects actually did. Other text messages do seem to indicate that suspects traveled from Portland to Seattle, but if what they actually did can't be established, then the charges related to interstate travel fall apart. It isn't illegal to travel to a public demonstration.
About phones: security culture around cell phones and divulging or phrasing information is a concern. That doesn't mean using some hammy code for texts and conversations; more often than not, it means not saying anything at all. Cell phones can track your location with some certainty when you use them and are often a millstone in court when used indiscriminately. But we know that. If you want to cause some mischief, think about ways in which your cell could incriminate you and don't do those things.
The government also spends some time talking about the height and relative build of the suspects, as they relate to the images of the riot. They had one agent do this, not a forensics expert and if you think you can be prosecuted for being vaguely the same height as some unidentifiable person at a protest, then that's incorrect. If you're really concerned, try to wear something that will really conceal your physique, without being cumbersome and dangerous. Now, if you're Andre the Giant and you have a very particular build that could be very particularly identified, save smashing capitalism for inside the ring. Take reasonable precautions; we're living in a surveillance state now, but it isn't infallible.
What this process is teaching us is that the government has many resources at their disposal: they have surveillance and will pay people to analyze it, compliance and assistance from local law enforcement and hella prosecutors who are sent out to grab people based on the government's focus on post-9/11 “domestic terror.”
What do we have? Black clothing. Bandannas. Rocks. Sticks. Paint. Smoke bombs. The dark of night, convictions and courage. And many of us will not snitch on our friends.
The government is playing defense on this one. Only a little more than a decade ago, environmental radicals were smashing open wild horse corrals and mink cages and straight burning shit down. Hell, drop an anarchist book from the US on the floor and see if the page that flips open doesn't mention the Seattle World Trade Organization protests of 1999. That is the definitional event for the alter-globalization-inspired anarchist re-emergence in the US and what did that involve? Breaking the fuck out of some very deserving property in Seattle and frustrating the police that tried to respond as people brought the city to its knees.
The government has a chicken-shit case. Even if they have better evidence that we aren't aware of, it's clear that the example they're setting should not dissuade anyone from adopting black bloc or destroying property. Hell, you could even go to Seattle to do it. It seems to come off pretty well there.
And, again: fuck the government, now and until it falls. This is such a titanic overreach on their part, and it makes them look like fucking chumps.
Read the affidavit here. Also available is some info obtained by Anonymous, relating to some of the principal government actors in this whole episode.