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Friday, May 24, 2013

New California Law Could Prohibit Protesters From Riding Public Transit

Posted by on Fri, May 24, 2013 at 11:51 AM

A local ABC affiliate describes the situation this way: "BART is rolling out a new plan that will allow it to ban passengers who don't behave."

But the RT blog describes it this way: "New law will ban protesters from riding mass transit in California... that power could be used to prevent political protesters from getting to demonstrations or essentially going anywhere."

The law is here and states, among other things, that possession of any illegal substance, "lewd" behavior, "unruly" behavior, or pretty much anything a transit cop decides is undesirable—they get a lot of discretion—can lead to a year-long prohibition from public transit. (It seems one must have gotten three infractions in 90 days.)

This measure was put in place, in part, because of repeated protests against BART in San Francisco after a BART cop shot and killed a mentally ill homeless man. (A few years prior, a BART officer shot and killed an unarmed 22 year-old.) BART, of course, defends the law as an attempt to "create a safer, cleaner environment for BART riders and employees."

But even the ABC report recognizes that "AB 716 won't only target violent behavior. It can be applied to protestors who have been arrested during free-speech movements."

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Morgan Stanley Denies Owning South Seattle Man's Mortgage Loan

Posted by on Thu, May 23, 2013 at 11:42 AM

I have news from Morgan Stanley for Jeremy Griffin and the SAFE activists attempting to block his eviction in South Seattle: "We do not own the loan and had no involvement in the foreclosure process," says Mark Lake, a Morgan Stanley spokesman. This despite Morgan Stanley, along with Deutsche Bank, being listed as plaintiffs on the eviction order.

This stuff is complex, but from what I understand based on my reporting, Morgan Stanley was responsible for packaging a set of loans together, including Griffin's, and selling them to investors. This process is called securitization. Deutsche Bank represents those investors, and probably hired Wells Fargo as the servicer to carry out the foreclosure.

I asked Lake whether Morgan Stanley has any comment on the practice of securitization, which contributed to the financial collapse in 2008. "No comment," he replied, after a pause.

The securitization "food chain" was a "ticking time bomb," according to this a clip from the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job, which explains how investment banks including Morgan Stanley sold packages of loans to investors, and in turn, helped wreck the economy:

Charles reports that Pope Francis is "calling for a more ethical banking system and curbs on financial speculation." Hear hear! SAFE, the group organizing the eviction blockade, sent out text messages this morning asking supporters to "please be on alert." They say King County Sheriff detective Pierre Thiry has warned them the eviction is likely to happen in the next several days.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Where Was Bobby Jindal When the Grand Jury Refusers Were in Prison?

Posted by on Sat, May 18, 2013 at 10:49 AM

Republican governor of Louisiana and POTUS hopeful Bobby Jindal has taken a strong stand against federal agents aiming their power at people for ideological reasons—in this case, the whole IRS-scrutinizing-conservative-groups scandal.

He has declared that IRS officials involved should go to jail:

"You cannot take the freedom of law-abiding Americans, whether you disagree with them or not, and keep your own freedom. When you do that, you go to jail," Jindal said.

Hey Bobby! What do you think about this situation?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

US Military Grants Itself the Power to Police American Streets and "Quell" "Civil Disturbances"

Posted by on Thu, May 16, 2013 at 10:45 AM

The Long Island Press has noticed that the US military has quietly given itself the power to police Americans and "quell... civil disturbances."

The lines blurred even further Monday as a new dynamic was introduced to the militarization of domestic law enforcement. By making a few subtle changes to a regulation in the U.S. Code titled “Defense Support of Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies” the military has quietly granted itself the ability to police the streets without obtaining prior local or state consent, upending a precedent that has been in place for more than two centuries.

The most objectionable aspect of the regulatory change is the inclusion of vague language that permits military intervention in the event of “civil disturbances.” According to the rule:

Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.

Bruce Afran, a civil liberties attorney and constitutional law professor at Rutgers University, calls the rule, “a wanton power grab by the military,” and says, “It’s quite shocking actually because it violates the long-standing presumption that the military is under civilian control.”

... Michael German, senior policy counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), noted in a 2009 Daily Kos article that, “there is no doubt that the military is very good at many things. But recent history shows that restraint in their new-found domestic role is not one of them.”

So... does this mean America is now living under the hair-trigger threat of martial law? And what rises to the level of "civil disturbance"?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Occupy Offshoot Blockades Home to Save South Park Man From Eviction

Posted by on Wed, May 15, 2013 at 6:43 PM

Co-authored by news intern Ansel Herz

A dozen activists are ready to risk arrest to defend ironworker Jeremy Griffin from being evicted from his South Park home.
  • Goldy | The Stranger
  • A dozen activists are ready to risk arrest to defend ironworker Jeremy Griffin from being evicted from his South Park home.

Shortly before midnight last night, 86-year-old activist Dorli Rainey—yes, the Dorli Rainey whose Maalox-covered pepper-sprayed face became an icon of the Occupy movement—got a text message that sheriff deputies were about to evict ironworker Jeremy Griffin from his foreclosed South Park home. So she immediately jumped in a cab and headed down to Griffin's house to put her body on the line.

Of course she did.

Twelve hours later, the sheriffs had yet to arrive, but a couple dozen fellow activists did, transforming the lawn and sidewalk in front of Griffin's home into a kinda Occupy Seattle reunion. This is the first "eviction blockade" to be staged by SAFE (Standing Against Eviction & Foreclosure), an activist organization that grew out of Occupy Seattle, focused on helping homeowners fight back against the banks through pragmatic public protests.

An eviction notice warned Jeremy Griffin and his dog Daisy to be out of their South Park home by midnight last night.
  • Goldy | The Stranger
  • An eviction notice warned Jeremy Griffin and his dog Daisy to be out of their South Park home by midnight last night.

The mood was almost festive (at one point, much to the delight of Rainey and others, schoolchildren from Concord Elementary across the street broke into a supportive chant). Griffin was surprisingly upbeat for man who soon could lose his house. "When you pick the right fight, you win," Griffin defiantly proclaimed as he thanked his comrades for their support. "What matters is that people have joined together to fight the banks."

It's a bold answer to those who criticize the Occupy movement for being too disorganized and unfocused to accomplish anything. SAFE is a direct offshoot of Occupy Seattle both in terms of organizational structure (horizontally, without hierarchy) and its membership (several of its founders are former Occupy activists). But unlike Occupy, SAFE's demands are specific and its tactics well proven. Such direct action blockades to stop evictions has been successfully employed by Occupy groups before, from Minnesota to Atlanta, often shaming the banks into negotiating with homeowners instead of evicting them.

SAFE's initial action got off to a promising start. As TV cameras rolled and speakers urged people to call Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman (212-761-4000) to ask him to negotiate a home-saving lease/purchase agreement, Morgan Stanley's executive offices called for Griffin. They would talk to their lawyers, Griffin says he was assured, and then get back to him.

Continue reading »


Monday, May 13, 2013

Black Bloc Community Service

Posted by on Mon, May 13, 2013 at 5:00 PM

This weekend I spent some time with Two Cheers for Anarchism by James C. Scott (whose Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, which I read as a student in Chicago, was a seismic event for my young brain).

This passage is in a chapter about how rules can be exercises in futility—improvisation, experimentation, stumbling, and mistakes are how people actually behave, from the time they learn to walk and talk to the time they're in the bloom of their lives. We get stuff done, he argues, precisely because we break the rules on a regular basis.

Workers have seized on the inadequacy of the rules to explain how things actually run and have exploited it to their advantage. Thus, the taxi drivers of Paris have, when they were frustrated with the municipal authorities over fees or new regulations, resorted to what is known as a greve de zele. They would all, by agreement and on cue, suddenly begin to follow all the regulations in the code routier, and, as intended, this would bring traffic in Paris to a grinding halt. Knowing that traffic circulated in Paris only by a practiced and judicious disregard of many regulations, they could, merely by following the rules meticulously, bring it to a standstill.

I love the idea of a protest based on the principle of scrupulously following rules to show how unnecessary and counterproductive they can be. Since May Day, I've also been talking with people about the idea of "Black Bloc community service."

For example: a pack of masked demonstrators amassing at Westlake, attracting a thicket of police in SWAT gear and nervous TV anchors, then calmly and efficiently conducting a free medical clinic. (Perhaps they could pull some support from the folks at Country Doctor.) Or leading a march that splits—one to a smashup downtown, the other to an underserved neighborhood, where the demonstrators do the heavy lifting to help built a community garden. Balaclavas, bandanas, furious weeding and tilling, wheelbarrows full of manure. (It would be hot as hell, but it would look good on the evening news.) Or a Black Bloc protest in which the windows of malfeasant banks were smashed while residential windows are lovingly washed.

Those might be impractical ideas. But something along those lines could be attractive to people who equate anarchism with nothing more than petulance and the kicking over of trash cans, and would merrily upend the usual public narrative about what anarchist demonstrators—particularly those in Black Bloc clothes—really stand for.

Friday, May 3, 2013

May Day Anarchists Will Compensate Small Businesses Whose Windows Were Smashed

Posted by on Fri, May 3, 2013 at 11:28 AM

On May Day, as police broke up a downtown demonstration and pushed activists (including anarchists) up Capitol Hill, some windows were broken at local bar Bill's Off Broadway, local bar/distillery Sun Liquor, and a Walgreens drug store.

A poorly disguised undercover officer.
  • A poorly disguised undercover officer.
This prompted some immediate debate about who broke them and why. I heard activist types saying variations on: I'd gladly smash a Bank of America window, but I'd never—and I don't know anyone who would ever—want to break the window of a neighborhood bar or pizzeria. What the hell happened there? There were theories: agents provocateur? That sounds nutty at first, but there were some sloppily disguised undercover types in the crowd. (And it turns out that fellow in the photo on the left, who I'd speculated about on May Day, was in fact briefly undercover—last night, someone sent me photos and descriptions of him working as a police officer. I recognized the guy by his shoes.)

Or was it random folks who just got excited at the prospect of smashing anything? Or some demonstrators who forgot the "targeted" part of "targeted property damage"?

Regardless, the next day some group who wanted to be credited as "the Anarchists of the Puget Sound" sent me an email saying:

We support everything that happened last night but feel that it is our responsibility to support our neighborhood small businesses as well... We would like to throw a benefit for Bill's Off Broadway and other small businesses to help them with the cost of replacing their windows. This does not include Walgreens, for obvious reasons.

Both Bill's and Sun Liquor soon responded to that gesture. From Sun Liquor:

Continue reading »

Thursday, May 2, 2013

City Files Light Misdemeanor Charges Against Six May Day Demonstrators

Posted by on Thu, May 2, 2013 at 12:05 PM

  • bk

This just in from the office of city attorney Pete Holmes:

The City Attorney’s Office on Thursday charged six individuals who were arrested in downtown Seattle and held overnight in the King County Jail. Three others who were arrested posted bail overnight and will be considered for charges at a later time.

1) SH, 5/22/91, obstruction of an officer and resisting arrest, at 8th and Howell

2) GH, 4/17/91, obstruction of an officer and resisting arrest, at 400 block of Olive

3) BS, 6/3/85, obstruction of an officer, at 6th and Olive

4) PN, 5/19/68, obstruction of an officer, failure to disperse and resisting arrest, at 9th and Pine

5) JG, 9/21/87, obstructing of an officer, at 8th and Pine

6) DB, 12/30/92, property damage and obstruction of an officer, at Boylston and Pine

Resisting arrest is a simple misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Obstruction of an officer, property damage and failure to disperse are gross misdemeanors, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Someone pointed out in comments below—and it has been my experience as well—that "obstruction" and "assault" of an officer can be thrown around like candy after demonstrations and is often dismissed by courts after tedious and sometimes expensive procedures. (Ever tried to contest a nonsense traffic ticket? Imagine trying to contest a nonsense charge of assaulting an officer if, say, the police charged a demonstration, you fell over, and your foot accidentally touched an officer's boot. That happens.)

On the other side, the National Lawyers Guild has released its own statement:

Yesterday evening, the Seattle Police Department provoked violent confrontations with May Day protestors in downtown Seattle. The Seattle Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild condemns the unprovoked use of force, including the use of concussion grenades and chemical agents, against people who merely were exercising their First Amendment right to protest. The confrontation began when armed riot police moved in to break up a protest celebrating International Workers’ Day that was taking place in a public street at the corner of Fourth and Pine. The police then declared a public safety emergency and ordered people who were observing their actions to leave the area or be arrested, thereby insulating police actions from public scrutiny. When the protestors moved through downtown streets, the police set off multiple concussion grenades, causing a series of injuries to those who were struck by the exploding projectiles.

Crimes were certainly committed yesterday: Windows were broken, protesters threw rocks and plastic water bottles at police, police fired "exploding projectiles" directly into large crowds. But "obstructing an officer" is a measly charge that usually boils down to a he-said/she-said between a demonstrator and a cop.

  • bk

Approximately 100% of the people at yesterday's evening march, including (especially) the journalists and photographers who were jockeying to get into the front lines for that sweet protest photo, could've been charged with obstruction.

It'll be interesting to see whether the police can find and charge any window-smashers and whether any demonstrators file suit for their injuries.

All in all, yesterday's early march for immigration reform was light and smooth and the evening anti-capitalist march was a bit of a clusterfuck. Both sides seemed clumsy and confused, full of passion but lacking tactical elegance.


Late-Night May Day Wrap-Up

Posted by on Thu, May 2, 2013 at 1:53 AM

It started out as a regular afternoon in downtown Seattle...
  • bk
  • It started out as a regular afternoon in downtown Seattle...

Dancers at the march for immigration reform.
  • bk
  • Dancers at the march for immigration reform.

Children watching the anarchists march past a playground.
  • bk
  • Children watching the anarchists march past a playground.

Despite the dramatic images on video and in photographs, and despite the highly emotional and polarized commentary that's already happening and will continue to happen, the anarchist component of May Day 2013 was a colorful, but fairly simple affair—as was the immigrant-reform march (a photo of which is above).

  • bk

  • bk

It showed that Seattle has a robust dissident community. It failed to smash any big, symbolic targets this year (say, Chase Bank), which might show a lack of planning, vision, and discipline. I had privately hoped that radical activists would cash in on all the municipal anxiety from last year's smashy-smashy May Day to conjure up a phalanx of riot cops and then do some Black Bloc community service—get doctors from the Carolyn Downs clinic to offer free healthcare in Westlake Plaza, with the image of tanks (or the SPD equivalent) behind them. Or set up a soup kitchen. Or gather in a poorer neighborhood to appropriate a vacant lot and do all the heavy-lifting work for a new community garden. That would have been creative and visually powerful and upended everyone's expectations of what anarchism and radicalism in Seattle means. But nobody asked me, so I can't complain.

Instead, they had an old-fashioned street melee with police when the protesters pushed back against some arrests. (We don't know what those arrests were for yet—I saw several, and they seemed to come out of nowhere.) A tense standoff happened, with police firing incendiary devices directly into the crowd. I watched this and thought it looked extraordinarily reckless on the SPD's part. The photo below shows one about to go off a few feet away from someone's feet, but I saw those things explode right against people's shoulders and torsos:

  • Ansel Herz

Continue reading »

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Day Wrap-Up Coming Soon

Posted by on Wed, May 1, 2013 at 11:31 PM

But for now, please enjoy this video for "Bad Kids" by the Black Lips:

It plays on repeat in my head whenever I'm at direct-action demonstrations like tonight's, where earnest idealism, clumsy hooliganism, and the comedy of human error (on all sides: cops, activists, media) are on parade.

Meet Dani

Posted by on Wed, May 1, 2013 at 5:58 PM

I'll write a May Day wrap-up post (with lots of photos) later, since May Day is still happening.

But here's a quick one—I talked to a few journalists at today's El Comite/immigration reform march who seemed irritated that the "anarchist" and "political vandalism" question seemed to be looming larger than immigration rights. As one person said, gesturing to the marchers "these poor people are being completely overshadowed."

Maybe. But to that I say three things: (1) That's in your head, pal, not mine. (2) That sounds a little condescending. (3) Some immigration-reform marchers were only too happy to be associated with the other May Day, including this guy. His name is Dani.

  • bk

"There will be little kids and elderly people at this march," he said, "so doing something [such as political vandalism] so the cops come in and grab people could be a problem. But if they do their thing, I have no quarrel with that. If they wanna beat the shit out of Bank of America, that's fine with me. Niketown, same thing. Fuck those guys."

I'm off to the next event. More later.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Tweet of the Day

Posted by on Mon, Apr 29, 2013 at 4:28 PM


And here's a nice story from last May Day about a Seattle EMT who was cleared of charges of assaulting an officer—a favorite charge against demonstrators—after video testimony showed the officers' accounts of events to be simply untrue. (For example: "The detective went on to assert that Morales kicked a second officer. Video of the incident shows Morales' feet were secured by officers immediately after she hit the ground.")

Friday, April 26, 2013

May Day Is Around the Corner, and the FBI Wants Us to Know They're Watching

Posted by on Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 3:11 PM

In the past 24 hours, FBI agents in Seattle and Olympia have reportedly been showing up at people's houses, jogging locations (a park), schools (Seattle University), workplaces, and at least one nonprofit (which serves street-involved youth), asking: "Do you want to talk about May Day?"

They're also asking about people's coworkers, roommates, romantic situations, and general social-mapping questions. (All the sources wished to keep their anonymity, for the moment at least.)

The agents are asking about May Day 2012, but it's difficult to believe that their timing, when May Day 2013 is just around the corner, is pure coincidence. We're all aware of the crap the FBI, US Attorneys, and other law-enforcement agents have been willing to drag activists through, as well as their fondness for "we know where you live, we know where you work, we know who you know" leverage—even when they're encouraging people to participate in criminal activities that are far outside their normal interests and patterns of behavior.

The Seattle agents, according to people who were present for the conversations in the past 48 hours, are primarily two guys in a gold SUV wearing jeans, button-up shirts, and vests (perhaps polar fleece). "Honestly," one source about the agents on the front steps, "at first I thought they were salesmen—maybe lawn service."

The agents were mostly chummy with the people they contacted. As one woman talked to agents, another housemate described their manner as "jokey and flirty—I almost thought they were gonna ask her out!"

Flirty or not, they identified themselves as members of the FBI's domestic terrorism unit. Apparently, the vandalism of May Day 2012, and the potential demonstrations on May Day 2013, are terrorism investigations. (Which, frankly, seems to me like a grave insult to anyone from Boston to NYC to Kandahar who's been a victim of, or lost a family member to, actual terrorism.)

In one case yesterday, the agents reportedly turned up at a public park to intercept two joggers. The joggers said "no, thanks" and went home. About 20 or 30 minutes later, the agents reportedly showed up at a house, apparently still looking for them.

In other cases, people approached have refused to give their names or any information (sometimes politely, sometimes not so politely). As of yet, that has not generated any push-back from the FBI.

If the agency was really gathering evidence about May Day 2012 or 2013, I'd guess they'd be more low-profile, waiting and watching and quietly gathering evidence. This little blitz of visibility seems calculated to freak people out and perhaps chill people's participation in any upcoming May Day demonstration. (But what do I know? I'm just a journalist.)

Ayn Dietrich, a spokesperson for the FBI, said she could not confirm or deny anything about the visits. "We do all kinds of routine activities throughout the state on any given day," she said. "If we have people out there, it could be community outreach, emergency response, or investigative work... We sometimes knock on doors when there's an issue of a missing child. We're around the community, especially with ethnic minority groups, to let them know they can come to us to report hate crimes."

Good to know.

Meanwhile, please enjoy this bit of homemade activist comedy about these kinds of FBI visits (in activist circles, they've become a trope), courtesy of independent journalist Will Potter (who I got to know when he spoke at the 2011 Smoke Farm Symposium).

Monday, April 15, 2013

Border Sabotage, Immigrant X

Posted by on Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 11:38 AM

I've been wondering how long it would take for US activists engaged in border sabotage to make it into print.

Some Israeli anarchists have practiced (mostly symbolic) border sabotage off and on for years. But the US-Mexico border, and its policing, has seemed like a ripe, highly visible, highly politicized target for a long time. One of the prime chants at last year's May Day protest in Seattle, for example, was: "Cops and borders, we don't need 'em, all we want is total freedom." (There's a strong dose of irony in that chant—"all we want" sounds like it's framing something minimal, but the subsequent demand for "total freedom" is so huge it seems impossible.)

But this article in Jacobin magazine—have you been reading this new, slickly designed, smart, funny, and unapologetically Marxist publication?—has a profile of and interview with "Immigrant X," a person or collective engaging in border sabotage. Here's a taste:

Enter Immigrant X: an alternative universe of fictionalized anti-border renegades, the brainchild of a group of pseudonymous bloggers who operate as an imagined community of grassroots anti-border activists located in an unnamed “Western democracy.” The team includes a saboteur who works for the immigration authorities, along with a network of clandestine border resisters with anarchist leanings. Together they operate an underground railroad that liberates migrants from detention.

Their stories describe sabotaged raids, a network of underground safehouses. In one post, “Raid Interrupted,” the rebels get tipped off in advance of raids and share the intelligence with migrants whom the immigration agents have targeted, and try to spirit them away to a hideout, a friendly squat. In another dispatch, they use their own remote controlled drones to disrupt an enforcement action:

@Immigrant_Z Keep it in position. I crowd is gathering. The border policewoman looks really flustered.

ImmigrantX Wed Mar 06 2013 at 3:52 PM

@Immigrant_Z Take it up. She wants to take a swing at it with a baton.

ImmigrantX Wed Mar 06 2013 at 3:53 PM

@Immigrant_Z The person she stopped has walked off, good one. Get it high, she is pretty close.

ImmigrantX Wed Mar 06 2013 at 3:54 PM

That is proposing a very dangerous game—we've seen how the federal government reacts to the smashed glass of a courthouse door. I can barely imagine the force and size of the hammer they would try to bring down on people actively and publicly sabotaging US border enforcement.

The Immigrant X manifesto:

1. Your rights as a world citizen are not defined by your race, religion, place of birth, nationality or lack of. They are afforded to you by your existence.

2. Wherever you live on this earth you have the same rights as all those who live in your community not matter how or why you came to this place.

3. A law that is unjust should be disobeyed through ingenuity and creativity not by violence or hurt those we oppose or seek to help.

People have been saying "I am a citizen of the world" ever since that proto-anarchist patron saint Diogenes of Sinope. But Immigrant X wants to prove it.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Seattle Police Arrest Two Tar Sands Protesters at Canadian Consulate

Posted by on Wed, Apr 3, 2013 at 3:35 PM

IMG_0070 editPhoto used with permission of Adam Gaya, Tar Sands Blockade Seattle

Seattle Police arrested two activists this morning for criminal trespass at the Canadian Consulate in Seattle's Century Plaza building after the activists U-locked their necks to the doors of a conference room. The activists were protesting the proposed expansion of Canadian tar sands oil production and export. Carlo Voli, a 46 year-old Edmonds resident, and Lisa Marcus, a 57 year-old Seattleite, were both cut free and arrested after 30 minutes of being locked to the doors, according to Adam Gaya, another activist on the scene.

Two other activists poured fake oil over unfurled Canadian and American flags in the consulate, while a dozen others protested outside the Century Plaza building in Westlake park. Rachel Stoeve, an activist who was carrying a banner in Westlake Park, wrote in the group's official statement, "We’re here to expose the collusion between the tar sands industry and the Canadian government."

Today's action was independent of, but in solidarity with the Tar Sands Blockade, a group based out of Southwest Texas that is trying to halt construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport Canadian oil to American refineries. Less well-publicized is the proposed increase in the number of tankers carrying tar sands through the Salish Sea and pipeline expansions in British Columbia. The pipeline expansions proposed in January by Canadian company Kinder-Morgan would nearly triple tar sands oil transport through the Trans Mountain Pipeline. They have also proposed an increase of oil tankers that would bring the total number to 360 tankers in the Salish Sea. Stoeve is worried that the Department of Ecology has no plan to deal with a potential spill, which could result in the loss of some 165,000 jobs and wipe out wildlife, such as the vulnerable resident orca population.

The Seattle group reports 50 arrests for the Tar Sands Blockade and its solidarity actions around the country this month.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Grand Jury Refusers Katherine Olejnik and Matthew Duran Are Free

Posted by on Wed, Feb 27, 2013 at 5:15 PM

This was originally posted at 4:19 pm.

Or they will be at 4 pm tomorrow afternoon. Judge Jones has granted Duran and Olejnik's attorneys' request to release their clients, who have been in prison—without being accused of any crime—for five months and in solitary confinement for two months.

I wrote about visiting them in prison, and how they got there, in this story.

More details after I get Judge Jones's ruling—but this is happy, happy news. And it's a correction of a situation in the justice system that has seemed very, very far from just.

The third grand jury refuser, Maddie Pfeiffer, is still in prison, but Pfeiffer's attorney did not join the motion to file for release. That motion, I'm guessing, isn't too far away. And sources say Pfeiffer has been moved out of solitary confinement and into the general population.

Of course, all three might eventually be charged with criminal contempt—but at least that would have a semblance of due process, an opportunity for a trial (or some semblance of one), and a fixed term of incarceration instead of you just sit in this cell until you tell us what we want to hear.

You know, the stuff most American citizens expect when dealing with judicial branch of American government.


Judge Jones's ruling is here, with selected paragraphs after the jump. In short, it reiterates what we've been saying for many months: That they weren't there on May Day, that their confinement is looking awfully punitive even though it's not legally supposed to be, that they have shown their resolve to not testify, and that the feds are asking them for testimony that would be tangential at best. (Not who threw the brick through the window?, but who is this person and what are her political and social affiliations?)

Read it in Judge Jones's words below the jump:

Continue reading »

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hearing About the Grand Jury Refusers Moved from Friday to Thursday

Posted by on Tue, Feb 26, 2013 at 3:20 PM

Yesterday, I posted about a hearing regarding the grand jury refusers, in which Judge Richard A. Jones will announce his decision on some motions filed by attorneys for Matthew Duran and Katherine Olejnik. (The attorneys filed motions asking for their clients' release, the government will have a chance to respond, and Judge Jones will do what judges do.)

That hearing has been moved from Friday at 10 am to Thursday at 9 am at the federal courthouse, 700 Stewart St.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Grand Jury Refusers: Five Months and Counting, Plus Solitary Since December

Posted by on Fri, Feb 8, 2013 at 9:59 AM

Remember these guys? Matthew Duran and Katherine Olejnik, who have been in prison since September without being charged—much less convicted—of a crime? Last fall, they were sent (not sentenced, just sent) to federal detention by Judge Richard A. Jones for declining to answer some questions in front of a federal prosecutor and a grand jury.

(To refresh your memory, some background below the jump.)

A few days after Christmas, and shortly after The Stranger's story about visiting them in prison ran, they were thrown into solitary confinement (aka the SHU, which stands for "special housing unit"). Their attorneys, Kim Gordon and Jenn Kaplan, are deeply frustrated because SeaTac officials have not given clear answers about why their clients are in the SHU. Have they broken a rule? Are they some kind of threat to the general population? Or what?

Kaplan, Olejnik's attorney, says her client "is still in solitary, and the FDC has refused to give me an answer regarding why."

It is not hyperbole to say solitary confinement is a form of torture. Dr. Atul Gawande wrote an excellent and well-researched article about the psychological and physiological damage of solitary confinement—even for brief periods of time—in 2009.

Even John McCain, who suffered five and a half years of torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, wrote that solitary "crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment."

According to Dr. Gawande's article:

A U.S. military study of almost a hundred and fifty naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam, many of whom were treated even worse than McCain, reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered. And what happened to them was physical. EEG studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement.

Dr. Gawande writes that the effects on people who've done time in solitary in US prisons isn't much different.

Duran and Olejnik have been in solitary since December 27—to repeat, they haven't been accused of any crime, they haven't been convicted of any crime, and the prison has failed to explain to their attorneys while they're in solitary.

This is what lawyers and reporters are talking about when they talk about this kind of process having a "chilling effect" on free speech. You can imagine, after this example, why people wouldn't want to hang out with other people who describe themselves as anarchists. (Again, see below the jump for background.) Knowing anarchists isn't a crime. But even if you don't commit a crime—even if you are granted immunity from being prosecuted for a crime—you can find yourself in solitary confinement.

That's a problem.

Continue reading »

Friday, December 21, 2012

How Has King County Managed to Charge People for May Day Vandalism While the Federal Government Has Resorted to Throwing People in Prison but Has Yet to Bring a Single Charge?

Posted by on Fri, Dec 21, 2012 at 4:22 PM

Why is that? Why has the county, with its relatively paltry resources, been able to gather enough evidence to identify and charge five people with May Day vandalism, while the FBI/federal prosecutor/federal judge Richard Jones have sent four people into prison for refusing to testify (after granting them immunity from prosecution), but have yet to wrangle a single actual charge?

Two of those people in prison, by the way, are the subject of this week's feature—non-witnesses to the crime who have not been charged with nor arrested for anything, but are affiliated with the local anarchist community.

One of those people sitting in prison, Katherine Olejnik, wasn't in Seattle on May Day, which the federal prosecutor admits. She says that during her grand jury appearance, she was asked four questions about the May Day smashup and around fifty questions about other people's political convictions. (How can anyone look at this situation and not hear echoes of the House Committee on Un-American Activities?)

I asked the FBI several days ago how the county has managed to be so much more efficient about gathering evidence and charging people without resorting to sending non-witnesses to prison to coerce their non-eyewitness testimony. The FBI has responded:

Thanks for your patience, Brendan. In answer to your question about timing, the investigation is ongoing because the FBI and Seattle Police Department remain committed to conducting it thoroughly. When subjects hide their identities, naturally, it takes longer to fully investigate the crime. The FBI and its partners don't aim for a specific timeline for solving a case; we aim to be thorough and precise, and take all the necessary steps to do so.

The FBI spokesperson warned me ahead of time that the statement would be brief, this being an ongoing investigation and all.

But there it is, in case you're wondering.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sixty-Five Days and Counting...

Posted by on Wed, Nov 14, 2012 at 11:50 AM

That's how long Matthew Duran has been in prison for refusing to cooperate with a federal grand jury. (Katherine "KteeO" Olejnik is just a couple of days behind him.)

Over at, someone has posted an alleged transcript of the latest May Day-related grand jury appearance, by Maddy Pfeiffer, on Nov 7. ("Alleged" transcript, because grand jury proceedings are supposed to be secret, so there's no real way to verify what was said.) Recall that Pfeiffer has not been charged with any crime.

Pfeiffer is scheduled to appear again on Dec 14.

P: Are you aware that the Federal courthouse was vandalized on May 1st?
M: I am exercising my state and federal constitutional rights including the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments.

P: Were you present at the courthouse on May 1st?
M: I am exercising my state and federal constitutional rights including the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments.

P: Do you know Person 1 (name redacted)?
M: I am exercising my state and federal constitutional rights including the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments.

P: Was Person 1 in Seattle on May 1st?
M:I am exercising my state and federal constitutional rights including the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments.

P: Do you know Person 2 (name redacted)?
M: I am exercising my state and federal constitutional rights including the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments.

P: Was Person 2 in Seattle on May 1st?
M:I am exercising my state and federal constitutional rights including the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments.

P: Do you know Person 3 (name redacted)?
M: I am exercising my state and federal constitutional rights including the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments.

P: Was Person 3 in Seattle on May 1st?
M: I am exercising my state and federal constitutional rights including the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments.

P: Did anyone tell you about vandalizing the courthouse?
M: I am exercising my state and federal constitutional rights including the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments.

P: Do you know what a black bloc is?
M:I am exercising my state and federal constitutional rights including the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments.

Continue reading »

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Matthew "Maddy" Pfeiffer, Another Grand Jury Resister

Posted by on Wed, Nov 7, 2012 at 3:32 PM

A couple of weeks ago, FBI agents served another May Day-related* subpoena, this one to Olympia resident Matthew "Maddy" Pfeiffer, ordering them ("them" is Pfeiffer's preferred pronoun) to appear at a federal courthouse this morning. Pfeiffer showed up and, according to Facebook, refused to participate. Pfeiffer wasn't immediately taken into custody for contempt of court—as other grand jury refusers/resisters have been—but has a contempt hearing scheduled for mid-December.

If Pfeiffer is held in contempt, they may join the other grand jury refusers/resisters, Matthew Duran and Katherine Olejnik, in SeaTac federal prison. (Leah-Lynn Plante has been released for reasons that remain obscure.)

* The eternal caveat: We don't actually know why the subpoenas were served or what the grand jury was going to ask, since grand juries are secret. But everything points to this grand jury being interested in May Day and anarchists, from the activists whose houses were raided to deliver the subpoenas—wouldn't an afternoon knock on the door have been enough?—to the search warrants looking for "anarchist" and "anti-government" "literature."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Help Occupy Help New Yorkers Who Need Help After Sandy

Posted by on Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 11:32 AM

While we all gear up for tonight, ready to celebrate the election results/wail and gnash our teeth about the election results, why not do something nice?

In New York, the Occupy movement has been occupying Sandy, leading the charge to help folks who are still in deep water/deep shit:

So how did an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, best known as a leaderless movement that brought international attention to issues of economic injustice through the occupation of Zucotti Park in the financial district last year, become a leader in local hurricane relief efforts? Ethan Murphy, who was helping organize the food at St. Jacobis and had been cooking for the occupy movement over the past year, explained there wasn’t any kind of official decision or declaration that occupiers would now try to help with the hurricane aftermath. “This is what we do already, “ he explained.

If you want to pitch in and do something useful instead of just wringing your hands, check out the Occupy Sandy site for real-time updates on what they need. Items requested as of now: blankets, candles, flashlights, food, batteries, diapers (adult and children's), wipes, gloves, masks (rated at least N95), rubber boots, shovels, warm clothes (gloves, jackets, etc.), and more. "General" clothes are apparently not needed at this time. Just the warm stuff.

People helping each other. That's what it's all about.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Forty-Seven Days and Counting...

Posted by on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 9:47 AM

That's how long Matthew Duran has been in federal prison—the SeaTac Federal Detention Facility—for refusing to cooperate with a federal grand jury which was, ostensibly, going to ask him about people who might have been involved with this year's May Day protests. (We don't know what the jury was actually going to ask because 1. grand juries are secret and 2. Duran showed up but refused to cooperate, so didn't get very far into the process.)

Duran has now broken a record—though he hasn't been accused of a crime, he's been sitting in custody longer than the only person who was actually arrested and sentenced for May Day-related vandalism. (Cody Ingram was arrested on May 3 and sentenced on June 13 to time served.) Katherine “KteeO” Olejnik is also in SeaTac FDC with Duran for the same reason, and is just a few days shy of his record.

In other grand jury-related news: Leah-Lynn Plante was released without explanation earlier this month and another subpoena was issued last week to Olympia resident Matthew "Maddy" Pfeiffer, who was ordered to appear before the grand jury on Nov 7, 2012.

And for those of you who despise political vandalism, and see no reason to think too much about this situation, comment 22 on this story is trying to tell you something:

The issue here is not whether this young woman has information that would lead to the indictment of a brave group of stick-wielding, attention-starved chumps. The issue is the bastardization of the Grand Jury system and the need to either fix it or jettison the entire mess. The Grand Jury was wisely introduced to U.S. courts with the intent of protecting citizens against unfair prosecution, but they have morphed into a modern-day version of the Spanish Inquisition - exactly the opposite of the founding fathers intent. The U.S. is the only nation remaining that maintains the Grand Jury system and its continued use is an embarrassment.

For more about this grand jury controversy, and grand juries in general, see here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

And Then There Were Three: Third Grand Jury Refuser Goes to Prison

Posted by on Thu, Oct 11, 2012 at 3:55 PM

Last night, Portland resident Leah-Lynn Plante spent the first of what could be a year and half's worth of nights in prison for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury about people she might know who might have been involved with the political vandalism on May Day.

That's a lot of nights for a few mights.

Plante has not been charged with a crime—in fact, the court granted her immunity from prosecution, meaning she could not invoke her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent—but she could serve time until the expiration of this grand jury. During the open portion of yesterday's hearings, Judge Richard A. Jones told Plante that might last until March of 2014.

Plante at home.
  • Plante at home.

Plante is the third person to be sent to the SeaTac Federal Detention Facility for refusing to testify in this matter. At her sentencing yesterday, around 40 supporters and activists—mostly dressed in black—sat in the federal courtroom while extra security, from the US Marshals and the Department of Homeland Security, stood by. As she was sentenced, and federal marshals prepared to take her away, Judge Jones reminded her that "you hold the keys to your freedom" and that she could be released at any time if she chose to "exercise your right to provide testimony."

It was an odd turn of phrase—the same judge who, that morning, legally blocked her from exercising her Fifth Amendment right was sending her to federal detention for not exercising a "right." The 40 or so supporters in the courtroom stood solemnly as she was led away. "I love you," Plante said to the crowd, as marshals escorted her through a back door. "We love you!" some people in the crowd said. The security men looked tense for a moment, their eyes bright and their jaws clenched, ready for action. Then everyone walked out quietly, without incident.

Plante at court.
  • bk
  • Plante at court.

The only federal defendant to be sentenced for an actual May Day-related crime so far—damaging a door of a federal courthouse during the smashup—was arrested in early May and sentenced, in mid-June, to time served.

Which brings up a pointed question: Why was the only federally identified May Day vandal sentenced to time served (about a month) while people granted immunity from prosecution—Plante says government attorneys don't dispute that she wasn't even in Seattle on May Day—are looking down the barrel of 18 months in federal custody? Why is a person who might know something about a crime, but steadfastly insists she has her right to remain silent, facing more severe punishment (about 18 times more severe) than the person who was sentenced for actually committing that crime?*

Minutes before Plante's hearing, her attorney Peter Mair sat, brow furrowed, in a courthouse lobby. Mair worked for years as a federal prosecutor—he's indicted the Speaker of the House of Representatives and prosecuted mobsters and corrupt government officials, and is familiar with the workings of federal grand juries.

But given the way government attorneys are using grand juries now, he said, "you could indict a ham sandwich. Defense attorneys are not allowed in, other witnesses are not allowed in... They're going to send this poor girl off to prison for a year and a half. And the great irony is that the one guy who pleaded guilty to the crime served—what? Forty days?"

Continue reading »

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Twenty-Six Days and Counting...

Posted by on Tue, Oct 9, 2012 at 12:39 PM

That's how long Olympia resident Matt Duran has been held at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury, ostensibly about the political vandalism on May Day. (Since grand juries are secret and Duran did not cooperate, we can't know for sure.)

Tomorrow morning, Portland resident Leah-Lynn Plante will face a federal grand jury for the third time. (We wrote about her first go-round back in August.)

Why has she shown up before, refused to testify, and not been sent to the federal detention center like Duran and Katherine Olejnik (who is also being held)? Plante says she's not entirely sure, but thinks that, in part, she had "run out the clock" during her initial hearing by frequently leaving the stand to consult with her attorney, who had to stay outside of the room during the proceedings. Plante says that attorneys for the state have already admitted they know she wasn't in Seattle on May Day and granted her immunity. Nevertheless, she expects she'll be detained tomorrow.

How long could she be held? "At the open hearing on Mr. Duran's contempt status," says Emily Langlie of the US Attorney's office, "the benchmark of 18 months was discussed in open court."

How is Plante preparing for her possible detention? "Oh, I'm just tying up my loose ends," she says. "The good thing and the bad thing is that my cat died before my house got raided. So at least I don't have to worry about that."

Plante will show up for hearings at the federal courthouse (7th and Stewart) at 9 am and 1 pm. Some local activists are planning to show up, too.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Seventeen Days and Counting...

Posted by on Sun, Sep 30, 2012 at 10:16 AM

From one of the warrants, issued in Oregon.
  • From one of the warrants, issued in Oregon.
That's how long Olympia resident Matt Duran has been held at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury, ostensibly about political or social acquaintances who may have had something to do with the political vandalism on May Day.

At least three people have appeared before the grand jury after a series of raids and subpoenas issued in July. The warrants for the raids listed black clothes, sticks, paint, notebooks, and "anti-government or anarchist literature or material" among the items to search for.

Two of the three—Matt Duran and Katherine “KteeO” Olejnik—are currently imprisoned at the SeaTac FDC for refusing to cooperate. The third, Leah-Lynn Plante, who prosecutors admit was not in Seattle on May Day, remains free.

Duran had a hearing last week. Some eyewitness details from

... Matt’s lawyer took the floor to explain Matt’s current conditions and intentions. Here is an abridged and bullet-point list of issues and information brought up by Matt’s lawyer in court —

Matt is in Solitary Confinement (the Secure Housing Unit) which means …
+ he has very little access to phone
+ he has been denied the ability to initiate contact with attorney
+ he has been denied visitor request forms
+ he has been denied vegan food (has access to vegetarian options and commissary items)
+ he has no way of socializing within the prison
+ he has no access to sunlight, fresh air or an untinted window to the outdoors

Even under these conditions, Matt has no intention of changing his mind or strategy. Matt’s lawyer explained that Matt will be at peace no matter where he is within the prison. She said that he would like to socialize and play chess with other inmates, but is content where he is. He has a clock radio and a couple of romance novels the prison gave him upon arrival.

The local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild has urged the FBI and US Attorney Jenny Durkan to drop the subpoenas, arguing:

While grand juries are part of our federal criminal justice system, the grand jury was intended to serve as a protector of people’s rights and should not be used as a mechanism for intimidating those who speak out against social and economic injustice in our society. “Movements and individuals working for social change in the United States have historically been at the receiving end of grand juries being used to harass political activism,” said Neil Kelley, an officer of the Seattle NLG.

Throughout the process, Emily Langlie from the US Attorney's office has reiterated: "We do not prosecute people for their political beliefs."

Monday, September 17, 2012

Occupy Wall Street Started One Year Ago Today

Posted by on Mon, Sep 17, 2012 at 8:21 AM

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Manhattan's financial district early Monday to mark the 1-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement — choking traffic and crowding the area around the New York Stock Exchange but being met at most turns by walls of police who stopped them from occupying anything.

Many thanks to the cops who blasted peaceful protesters with pepper spray in those early days for making OWS blow up nationally (and condolences to the peaceful protesters who took eyesfull of the stuff). I don't think you can look back at those demonstrations without acknowledging that they've changed the type of conversations America has about wealth and taxation since. But, man, I don't think you can look at some of the megalomaniacal dipshits who, mistakenly, thought it was supposed to be about fighting with cops without seeing that they also drove those protests—and a lot of long-term public support with them—right into the ground.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Activists Summoned Once Again Before a Federal Grand Jury

Posted by on Thu, Sep 13, 2012 at 2:45 PM

A month ago, I met Leah-Lynn Plante, a Portland woman who had been summoned before a federal grand jury in Seattle—without an attorney present, which is how grand juries work—ostensibly to testify about the May Day smashup during which a federal courthouse was vandalized.

But we don't know what, exactly, the grand jury wanted to know—she came to Seattle, but refused to testify. She was told to come back today and has returned, along with several dozen demonstrators.

Leah-Lynn Plante
  • The Stranger
  • Leah-Lynn Plante

Plante was not in Seattle on May Day, and she says the prosecutors know that—but she is a self-described anarchist. Her house was raided by the FBI, part of a series of raids in Seattle and Portland by local and federal law-enforcement officials, who, according to the warrants, were looking for items such as black clothing, sticks, paint, computers, cell phones, and "anti-government or anarchist literature or material."

"The assumption that this is about broken windows on a courthouse is a false one," she said in an interview on the courthouse steps this afternoon. "This is a witch hunt."

Emily Langlie, from the US Attorney's office, disagrees—this afternoon, she reiterated that "we do not prosecute people for their political beliefs."

Continue reading »

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Today in the Surveillance State: "Cell Phones Are Tracking Devices That Make Phone Calls"

Posted by on Thu, Sep 6, 2012 at 12:34 PM

Jacob Appelbaum lives in Seattle and has been heavily involved in the Tor project and and is the only known American member of the Wikileaks project. A few months ago, he gave a revealing interview about domestic spying, electronic (in)security, and more with n+1.

Resnick: What should we know about cell phones? It’s hard to imagine going to a protest without one. But like all networked technologies, surely they are double-edged?

Appelbaum: Cell phones are tracking devices that make phone calls. It’s sad, but it’s true. Which means software solutions don’t always matter. You can have a secure set of tools on your phone, but it doesn’t change the fact that your phone tracks everywhere you go. And the police can potentially push updates onto your phone that backdoor it and allow it to be turned into a microphone remotely, and do other stuff like that. The police can identify everybody at a protest by bringing in a device called an IMSI catcher. It’s a fake cell phone tower that can be built for 1500 bucks. And once nearby, everybody’s cell phones will automatically jump onto the tower, and if the phone’s unique identifier is exposed, all the police have to do is go to the phone company and ask for their information...

Resnick: Okay, so one thing I’ve heard more than once at meetings when security culture comes up is that . . . well, there’s a sense that too much precaution grows into (or comes out of) paranoia, and paranoia breeds mistrust—and all of it can be paralyzing and lead to a kind of inertia. How would you respond to something like that?

Appelbaum: The people who that say that—if they’re not cops, they’re feeling unempowered. The first response people have is, whatever, I’m not important. And the second is, they’re not watching me, and even if they were, there’s nothing they could find because I’m not doing anything illegal. But the thing is, taking precautions with your communications is like safe sex in that you have a responsibility to other people to be safe—your transgressions can fuck other people over. The reality is that when you find out it will be too late. It’s not about doing a perfect job, it’s about recognizing you have a responsibility to do that job at all, and doing the best job you can manage, without it breaking down your ability to communicate, without it ruining your day, and understanding that sometimes it’s not safe to undertake an action, even if other times you would. That’s the education component.

So security culture stuff sounds crazy, but the technological capabilities of the police, especially with these toolkits for sale, is vast. And to thwart that by taking all the phones at a party and putting them in a bag and putting them in the freezer and turning on music in the other room—true, someone in the meeting might be a snitch, but at least there’s no audio recording of you.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012



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Headline of Our Times

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