All posts by Greg Wells

A New Normalcy

Riding the post 9-11 wave of mass hysteria, Congress enacted a sweeping new set of “anti-terrorism” laws October 26, 2001. According to President, George W. Bush, the new legislation was intended to “strengthen the fight against terrorism while protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans”. Bush then went on to state that “the overwhelming bipartisan support for the bill [a 98-1 vote in the Senate] stemmed from its respect for the civil liberties guaranteed by our constitution.” In light of the federal round up of over 1000 Arab Americans, one can’t help but wonder if President Bush has any idea what his beloved Constitution states.

In reality, the measures enacted with the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) only sanctioned common practices the Feds have been utilizing for decades. This is especially apparent in the environmental hotbed of Portland, Oregon, where “the war against terrorism” has justified repression of domestic radicals for years before the September 11 attacks. The experience in Portland could be repeated nationwide given the new license enjoyed by the Feds to crackdown on domestic radicals under the guise of fighting the “war on terrorism.”

Since as early as 1997, the Portland Police Department (PPD) has been working in close alliance with the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), US Customs and the Drug Enforcement Administration amongst several other undisclosed agencies to combat the growing underground movement of the Earth and Animal Liberation Fronts (ELF & ALF). It wasn’t until November of 2000 that the broad power of these dangerous allies became official in the form of the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force (PJTTF).

Joint Terrorism Task Forces have been utilized in other US cities dating back to the late seventies in NYC. The New York JTTF was established to combat a rash of bank robberies in the city, hardly the stuff of a domestic terrorist threat to the US government. Since the early days of JTTF’s, over 30 cities have taken on these allegiances between federal and local law enforcement agencies. Attorney General Ashcroft has now ordered the formation of JTTFs in every federal prosecutor’s territory.

The typical make-up of JTTF’s is comprised of a half dozen or so local law enforcement officers with an equal number of federal agents from the corresponding area branch. Indeed, the JTTF is nothing more then a training ground for officers to be deputized as federal agents, further blurring the line of exactly who is accountable for what and to whom.

As its primary mission statement, the PJTTF, vowed to “identify and target for prosecution those individuals or groups who are responsible for acts of criminal terrorism within the traditional criteria of the Right or Left Wing movements, as well as acts of criminal terrorism committed by special interest groups, such as the anti-abortion movement and the ALF/ELF. The PJTTF will enhance the effectiveness of federal, state, local law enforcement resources through a well coordinated initiative seeking the most effective investigative avenues by which to convict offenders.”

As is clearly evident in the loose language and structure of the mission statement, the PJTTF obviously doesn’t want the public to have any inkling of what they truly determine to be classified as terrorism. Obviously, large pockets of the populace in the Northwest are well informed about the existence of the Earth Liberation Front in the region. The FBI would love to have everyone believe that members of these underground organizations are “violent extremists hell bent on the destruction of all that we hold sacred in this country.” But when you start to read between the lines and sift through the mountains of misinformation the police channel through their allies running the major media outlets, you begin to uncover the true aim and goals of these partners in crime.

In April of 2001, Craig Rosebraugh, then the national spokesperson for the ELF and a Portland resident, faced an all-too-familiar scenario as he was stopped on a “routine traffic violation” and detained for 30 minutes while the FBI had time to prepare search warrants for Rosebraugh’s residency and business, the Calendula Baking Company. All told Rosebraugh’s home with fellow environmental activists Leslie James Pickering and Elaine Close was searched for six hours while a simultaneous four hour search was being carried out at the bakery. Upon leaving the bakery and the home, agents seized hundreds of items of property including computer equipment, phone lists, videos, literature and other items. High profile arrests and seizures attached to prominent above ground activists such as Rosebraugh have become one of the chief pillars of the FBI’s typical political investigation. These acts of harassment lend credibility to the notion that the FBI are close to cracking open the cells of ELF, when in actuality they have rarely ever convicted anyone even indirectly involved in acts of eco-sabotage.

After completion of the raid Rosebraugh was issued his seventh grand jury subpoena since 1997, this one in regards to a non-ELF arson of an SUV dealership in nearby Eugene. When asked to comment on the latest interrogation Rosebraugh said: “This is nothing more than another attempt by the thugs of the state and federal government to stop the legal work of the North American ELF press office.” He went on to say that “These random items which were seized have no connection to any crimes and this is quite obviously just another form of harassment by the state.”

Although Rosebraugh has garnered major independent and mainstream media coverage in the past few years, he is but a single victim in a sustained, highly sophisticated war of heavy-handed tactics that the PPD and their federal allies have initiated to dismantle the radical community in Portland. An anonymous anarchist and former resident of Portland recently told me of a continuous flurry of supposedly random pullovers at the hands of the PPD. During these encounters local anarchists and community activists would be questioned on the state of their involvement in various organizations and given extreme tickets on largely fabricated vehicular and bicycle infractions.

The Portland crackdown coincided with the heightened state of fear in the region in the period between the June 18, 1999 street riots in neighboring Eugene and that fall’s massive shutdown of the WTO meetings in Seattle, three hours to the north. In both cases anarchists from Portland were identified as instigators. Things became so hot in the wake of these two events that it became common for local activists to be pulled aside at demos by police who knew their name, their affiliation with various groups and their residencies by heart.

On the evening of March 29th, 2001 this building anti-anarchist witch hunt reached a pinnacle as a private party in a northeast Portland house was raided by 43 police cars who responded to a state of emergency call issued by the first cops to arrive on the scene. The original complaint was that of a reported noise complaint. Not more then two minutes after the cop was assured that the noise would be contained, cruisers began pouring into the area with sirens blazing, completely surrounding the house and blocking off streets in several directions in the immediate area of the party.

Accounts of the confrontation by activists and police are contrary. Police claimed that an officer was trapped inside of the house and was physically detained and beaten by several attendants of the party, all of whom just happened to be members of the local activist community and punk rock subculture. From the moment the squads began encircling the house, police brutality reigned upon the crowd. Pepper Spray was used and scores of individuals were questioned and photographed.

Three individuals were arrested at the scene and charged with assault and riot, both felonies. Later they were released on their own recognizance and ordered to appear for a court date the following Monday afternoon. At the hearing, the three were re-arrested and all of their supporters were forced to leave the courtroom. In addition to the two felonies, the three were charged with kidnapping at the hearing. Months later one of the victims had all charges dropped after a private detective was hired. The other two individuals ended up doing month long stints in a work camp after they plead guilty to reduced charges.

In the time following the raid, widespread community condemnation of the PJTTF began to mount and it appeared that the fall review and proposal for renewal for the ordinance would be defeated. Before the hearing, however, the September 11 attacks squashed any hopes for de-escalation of federal or local police department activist harassment.

Since that time cities small and great have been whipped into a state of panic by the US government with warnings of a “new, different kind of war, where terror can and will strike without warning”. With the formal endorsement of joint terrorism task forces by attorney general Ashcroft and passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act, the experience in Portland may be just the beginning.

Steve Sherlag, a Portland lawyer who has testified against the PJTTF fears the worst. “There has been a movement to label people who question the military response as un-American”. People who are protesting the US government’s approach “can expect that they’re going to be investigated by the FBI and the Portland Police Bureau’s JTTF”. Dan Handelman, a member of the Portland chapter of the national police accountability group, Copwatch, echoes Sherlag’s sentiments, “Regardless of whether there is real terrorism or not, a task force that has such an ill-defined mission, and which keeps information secret from society, is a danger to civil rights”.

With the ramifications of September 11th being felt globally, nations from all political leanings are rushing to pass highly restrictive new laws. In Canada the always flimsy definition of what constitutes terrorism mentions threats against property in the same breath as those against human lives. In the war torn country of Columbia the executive branch is passing new legislation that enables the government to detain anyone who is suspected of terrorist activity without first obtaining incriminating evidence. And the beat goes on in Britain and India and Jamaica and. . . .

Here in the US, increasing use of terrorist laws to attack domestic radicals appears likely. With the lines between federal and local law enforcement being distorted with the proliferation of the JTTF phenomena, federal power is dramatically enhanced. With the new license for political surveillance, we must assume that every time you speak in opposition to the blood on the hands of the US government, they are listening. Every time you question the integrity of our great president, they are watching. Every time you receive Slingshot in the mail, they are keeping track of you.

To fight the descent into a security state justified by a perpetual war on terrorists, we have to understand what we’re up against and organize to smash it.

The author, Greg Wells, can be reached at: PO Box 5021 Richmond, VA. 23220