The federal green scare trial of Jonathan Paul, Daniel McGowan, Nathan Block and Joyanna Zacher — charged with involvement in a series of arsons claimed by the Earth Liberation Front — has been moved from October 31 to mid-March, 2007 after a summer that saw numerous other defendants in the case take plea deals and agree to cooperate with the government.
The four remaining defendants, plus Briana Waters who currently faces a separate May, 2007 trial date, now face trial with several of their once co-defendants preparing to offer up dubious testimony against them, while the government raises the specter of “terrorism” over alleged property damage allegations in defense of the environment. No one was injured in any of the arsons that form the basis for the case. Block, Zacher and McGowan face charges that carry a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence, and maximums of life plus 300 to 1,015 years. All remaining defendants also face a “terrorism enhancement” under federal sentencing guidelines, which carries a maximum 30 year sentence.
These five non-cooperating defendants are in urgent need of support for their resistance to the federal government’s attempt to railroad them.
Chelsea Gerlach, William Rodgers, Kendall Tankersley, Kevin Tubbs, Daniel McGowan and Stanislas Meyerhoff were arrested and charged with various arsons December 7, 2005 as part of the FBI’s “Operation Backfire.” Within days of the first arrests, it was revealed that informants, including Jacob “Jake” Ferguson of Eugene, were the sole basis relied upon by the feds in making the arrests. Meyerhoff quickly agreed to cooperate with the feds. On December 22, William “Avalon” Rodgers was found dead in his cell in Flagstaff, Arizona, from an apparent suicide.
On January 20, federal prosecutors, the head of the FBI, and US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales held a press conference announcing a sweeping 65-count indictment, including two conspiracy charges, against 11 individuals relating to 17 different incidents in Oregon, Washington and California. In addition to the six people arrested on December 7, the Oregon indictment also named Jonathan Paul, Suzanne Savoie, Joseph “Joe” Dibee, Rebecca Rubin and Josephine Sunshine Overaker.
The Oregon indictment charged certain defendants with arson, attempted arson, and using and carrying a destructive device. The destructive device charge, 18 USC 924(c), carries a 30-year mandatory sentence and a life sentence for a second conviction of the charge.
In the weeks that followed, five individuals were revealed as “confidential sources” for the government’s case. Subsequently, on February 23, Nathan Block and Joyanna Zacher were arrested in Olympia and were charged with involvement in the 2001 Jefferson Poplar and Romania II arsons.
On March 30, Briana Waters was arrested in connection with an alleged arson at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture in 2001. Her trial is scheduled for May 7, 2007. She staunchly maintains her innocence to the charges and is free awaiting trial. On May 10, a superseding indictment charged Waters with the destructive device charge and added Solondz, Tubbs and Rodgers to the UW arson case. Named informants in this case include Jennifer “Jen” Kolar and ex-Earth First! Journal editor Lacey Phillabaum, both of whom walk free as uncharged co-conspirators as of this writing.
On April 6, an indictment in connection with a 2001 horse corral fire near Susanville California charged Justin Solondz, Joe Dibee, Rebecca Rubin and Darren Thurston. On May 18, a federal grand jury indicted Chelsea Gerlach, Stanislas Meyerhoff, Josephine Sunshine Overaker and Rebecca Rubin for alleged involvement in the 1998 arson of the Vail ski resort.
Plea Deals Aplenty
Without any notice to the codefendants or the public, on July 20 and 21, formal change of plea hearings were held in the Oregon court for Darren Thurston, Kevin Tubbs, Kendall Tankersley, Stanislas Meyerhoff, Chelsea Gerlach and Suzanne Savoie. These six pled guilty to a variety of conspiracy, arson and attempted arson charges — none of them pled to the destructive device charge used as a hammer by the feds in coercing these people to become informants. The US attorney’s office recommended sentence for Stanislas Meyerhoff is 188 months imprisonment for pleading guilty to 54 charges; Kevin Tubbs, 168 months for 56 charges; Chelsea Gerlach, 120 months for 18; Suzanne Savoie, 63 months for 15; Kendall Tankersley, 51 months for three; and Darren Thurston, 37 months for two.
The above terms of imprisonment are recommendations that the feds will make to the Court at the time of sentencing and are contingent upon these cooperating defendants continued full and complete cooperation for the rest of their lives. This term applies to ALL of the defendants who have pled out so far.
During this hearing, the government seemed especially keen on connecting the ELF and the ALF to broader environmental efforts and movements. The state stressed that Stanislas Meyerhoff and other defendants allegedly attended an Earth First! party directly after performing a sabotage, and also that the Vail arson followed unsuccessful litigation and grassroots campaigns against ski resort development in the area. The government also made a point of stressing that these defendants used the term “direct action” in reference to the arson incidents.
For the first time, new allegations were disclosed at the change of plea hearings disclosing additional arsons that allegedly occurred in Phoenix, Arizona, and the eastern district of Michigan.
Upon motion by the cooperating defendants’ attorneys, all of the plea petitions, cooperation agreements, and even the transcripts of the public court hearing for all six, were sealed, making them unavailable for public scrutiny. (However, the judge unsealed some portions of these documents at an August 22 hearing — read them at cldc.org.)
The government announced that it would pursue upward enhancement of sentences for the six taking pleas, arguing that the federal terrorism enhancement guidelines apply to their sentences as well. This enhancement, normally only utilized in cases where human lives were lost in incidents such as 9/11, carries up to an additional 30 year sentence. The government indicated that the defendants were free to argue against the terrorism enhancement, however, it would appear that all of the defendants who entered pleas in July stipulated to the prosecution’s “facts” underlying the plea petition. These “facts” included the verbatim definition of a “federal crime of terrorism,” thereby reducing the amount of work the feds will have to do to convince a judge that the enhancement applies. The definition of terrorism read in open court by the prosecutors is: A crime calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct. Under this broad definition, historic acts of nonviolent civil disobedience could be construed as terrorism. It is confusing and troubling that these defendants would permit the feds to potentially brand them with this over-used and inappropriate label.
Lacey Phillabaum was expected to enter a plea in Seattle in exchange for her cooperation. It is unclear which of the many jurisdictions informant Jennifer Kolar will plea in as a result of her extensive cooperation with the feds. Numerous other people have been contacted and have voluntarily agreed to provide information to the federal government about these cases, their political ideologies and their associations.
As Slingshot goes to press, Suzanne Savoie, Kendall Tankersley, Daniel McGowan, Jonathan Paul and Briana Waters are all out on pre-trial release. All other persons indicted in Oregon who have been located, are currently in custody. A number of people charged with crimes have not been captured and may be living overseas.
Without the information provided by Jake Ferguson, uncharged informants such as Jennifer Kolar and Lacey Phillabaum, as well as the parroted statements made by the cooperating defendants thus far, there would be no federal case. Ferguson and Stanislas Meyerhoff have admitted to their participation in most of the alleged arsons, yet Ferguson remains free and without charges (and according to a Rolling Stone article, $50,000 richer). To date, no other hard evidence exists linking the defendants to the alleged charges. The snitch statements all vastly contradict each other and have changed and evolved as the government changes it’s story. These informants will face cross examination at trial and vast amounts of resources are being utilized in defense of those defendants who continue to assert their innocence before a jury of their peers.
Misuse of Grand Juries
On March 21, Camilo Stephenson was subpoenaed to a Denver grand jury and questioned about the 1998 Vail ski resort fire. Jake Ferguson told the feds that Stephenson would substantiate his story that attempted to rope in additional people. Stephenson denied any knowledge of any of the incidents and was able to inform the jury as to Jake’s reputation as a drug addict, thief, and untrustworthy individual.
Jeff Hogg and Burke Morris were subpoenaed to testify in front of federal grand juries on May 18, Jeff in Eugene and Burke in Denver. Jeff refused to testify before the grand jury and was held in contempt by Judge Michael Hogan and sent to jail. Jeff is still in and could remain in jail until the grand jury’s expiration, which may be extended until March, 2007.
Burke answered limited questions asked by the Denver grand jury, questions about his personal life, but denied any knowledge of the incidents about which he was questioned. Burke also ended up in this position as a result of Jake Ferguson trying to use him to corroborate untruthful statements that Ferguson made to the feds.
On June 27, Jim Dawson of Olympia received a subpoena to appear before a grand jury in Seattle. His appearance has been postponed since he consented to be questioned by the FBI in lieu of his scheduled grand jury appearance. His partner, Heather Moore, also of Olympia, had earlier agreed to be voluntarily questioned by the feds regarding her community. The extent of their disclosures to the government is unknown at this time. As a result of their voluntary cooperation, additional subpoenas are possible.
The fact that the feds are continuing to subpoena people would normally lead one to believe that the government continues to search for additional defendants in these cases — it is either that, or a grave abuse of the grand jury system at work. In the Oregon court hearing on June 28, Jonathan Paul’s attorney told the court that he was putting the government on notice that he was deeply concerned with the unlawful abuses of the grand jury system by the government. Grand juries are intended only to decide whether or not to bring indictments. In this case grand juries are being used to gather evidence to prepare for trial, an illegal use of the grand jury.
The next status hearing for Jonathan Paul, Daniel McGowan, Nathan Block and Joyanna Zacher is set for October 31 in Eugene, Oregon federal court. The court will further consider the defendants’ motion for the release of National Security Agency wiretaps and FISA surveillance of the activist community in Eugene and elsewhere for the past decade or more. At an August 22 hearing, federal prosecutors said they didn’t have “clearance” to discuss the issue.
The government continues to monitor and scrutinize media discussion of the green scare cases including on-line sources such as indy media sites. Many of the court filings include voluminous pages printed from the internet comment sections, personal email communications, and other documents that make it obvious that the government continues to spy on political groups and their activities. There is nothing illegal about doing prisoner support or discussing current events, but the feds continue to manipulate and misconstrue these communications to their own benefit. Please think of this before you write and post on the internet.
To stay informed about the latest goings on related to the Green Scare, visit cldc.org or portland.indymedia.org. Don’t forget to write to and support the non-cooperating defendants and talk to your friends and neighbors about the Green Scare cases.
• Nathan Block #1663667, Lane County Jail, 101 W 5th Ave, Eugene, OR 97401
• Joyanna Zacher #1662550, Lane County Jail, 101 W 5th Ave, Eugene, OR 97401
• Jeff Hogg #1065518, 1901 N.E. F St., Grants Pass, OR 97526
• Daniel McGowan www.supportdaniel.org
• Briana Waters www.supportbriana.org
If anyone has information they are willing to share on any of the cooperating witnesses, background, history, etc., to help in the defense of the non-cooperating defendants, please contact attorney Lauren Regan at email@example.com. Your opinion or anecdote could save a brave person many years in jail.
The Civil Rights Outreach Committee is a media working group regarding the Green Scare: firstname.lastname@example.org.