Seattle grand jury: guilt by association?

anarchist star Last week, we wrote about the three Northwest May Day activists who had been jailed for refusing to testify, and the way grand juries can be and are used as tools for political repression. Since then, there have been two major developments. First, Leah Lynn Plante has been released from jail, although Matt Duran and Kteeo Olejnik have not. Second, FBI documents have been uncovered that make it clear that this grand jury is, indeed, being used to target a political movement

As we noted in our last article, grand juries are problematic because they do not afford the same constitutional protections as criminal trials, they can lead to jail time for civil and criminal contempt, they can sow suspicion in political movements, and they are highly secretive. The current Seattle grand jury is flexing all of these destructive muscles.

While there has been speculation that it was convened in order to investigate property destruction in Seattle on May Day, there are indications that it is a far more complex investigation. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer broke a story about unsealed court documents which reveal that the FBI was tailing Portland anarchists the day before May Day. As the Committee Against Political Repression(CAPR) states in their blog:

The FBI’s treatment of anarchism as evidence of criminality in the affidavit quoted in the P-I supports the conclusion that the ongoing investigation is more about politics than law. The political nature of this investigation is also demonstrated by the scale of the state’s attack and the seizure of “anarchist literature” in armed raids.

This is nothing less than guilt by association, clearly demonstrated by the affidavit CAPR refers to. It includes a statement from an FBI Agent that:

Although many anarchists are law-abiding, there is a history in the Pacific Northwest of some anarchists participating in property destruction and other criminal activity in support of their political philosophy.

This conclusion is also supported by Kteeo’s statements about the lines of questioning she has been subjected to:

They weren't trying to figure out from me who did a certain thing. They wanted to know who knew who, who was connected to who . . . They're asking us who believes in things.

Moreover,  a public records act request by the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) revealed that  the Grand Jury was empaneled on March 2nd, 2012, far before May Day activities.

What exactly this means remains to be seen.  The grand jury is ongoing. In the meantime, Lauren Regan, CLDC Director & Staff Attorney has some very good advice for the anarchist community, and for all involved in social justice movements:

It is extremely important not to speculate about what a grand jury investigation may be looking for—you may give the government an idea that it was unaware of.

Perhaps even more importantly, instead of allowing the government’s tactics to scare communities into disarray:

The most effective way to counteract that is to do the opposite; not be scared into submission and not disassociate yourself from people based on their political beliefs.

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Please sign this petition for the Grand Jury Resisters:

The entity to be worried about is not the grand jury but the Justice Jepartment. The prosecutor basically serves as Judge and Legal advisor and the saying that a prosecutor can "indict a ham sandwhich" is as true today as ever. Grand jury sessions are by law held in secret and although the theory is that they serve to protect the innocent, the burden necessary to indict is incredibly low and only the bare majority need vote to indict. With that said, people who assault officers (throwing glass bottles at them) and wreck damage as part of a civil rights demonstration must expect, as did Martin Luther King, that they may be summoned to jail for their beliefs.

It's not uncommon for anarchists to discuss prospective illegal activities in public sites. it should surprise no one if the FBI had a reasonable basis for investigating prior to and in anticipation of the May Day violence.