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Inspiring Terrible Things

Federal agents are fighting the greatest scourge since Bolsheviks infiltrated washrooms across America. Throughout the nation teams of local police and the FBI—Joint Terrorism Task Forces—are scrutinizing security footage and wiretaps while prosecutors issue grand jury subpoenas.

On December 26th, 2012, Matthew Pfeiffer reported for imprisonment to Seattle’s Federal Detention Center. He joins Katherine Olejnik and Matthew Duran, held in contempt for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating anarchist collectives in the Pacific Northwest. The price of silence, for not offering circumstantial evidence against photographs and names presented during closed sessions without judge or legal representation, can amount to continued incarceration until March of 2014 when the grand jury dissolves.

None are charged with any further crime. None are suspected of wrongdoing. The US attorney in charge admits that this imprisonment is a form of coercion to compel testimony.

Initially the subpoenas were thought to be tied to vandalism committed during May Day protests in Seattle on 2012. Raids conducted in Seattle and Olympia, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, targeted activists. Officers armed with machine guns busted down doors and seized computers, cell phones, CDs, books and black clothing. Witnesses were called and refused to participate resulting in open-ended sentences for Pfeiffer, Olejnik and Duran. A fourth activist, Leah-Lynn Plante, was detained in solitary confinement for a week before appearing before the grand jury and being dismissed. She has subsequently withdrawn from the public spotlight and refused to comment on the circumstances of her appearance.

An image of reactive policing was shattered in court of October 3rd when documents were accidentally unsealed. The grand jury was convened before May 1st and surveillance began as early as April when agents in Portland began tailing anarchists observed changing clothes following local protest. Hours of security footage and newsreels have been analyzed. Hundred of photographs have been picked over. Text messages intercepted and read. Political activists watched. A surveillance team followed activists traveling to Seattle for the May Day protests, tracking their rental car to Olympia where suspects spent the night and continuing to monitor text messages the next day.

During an interview with the Seattle Weekly The Stranger Olejnik claims that questions presented during the grand jury session had a precursory relationship to the May Day vandalism. She was not in Seattle on the day in question and instead buffeted with a series of photographs and demands to comment on the subjects’ political affiliations.

Political groups under surveillance is nothing new in the Land of the Free. Historical targets The Black Panthers and Students for a Democratic Society became Earth Liberation Front and other environmental or animal rights groups. After a series of highly publicized actions, including arson, explosives and intimidation, legislation has been introduced to criminalize non-violent tactics such as the surreptitious filming of slaughterhouses.

Intermingling among political groups brought collectives under greater scrutiny in recent years. Animal and environmental activists fall under the umbrella of anarchist ideology. The FBI’s unintentionally hilarious page on Anarchist Extremism rivals the hyperbolic agitation of message board radicalism, portraying both law and dissident as schoolyard misfits gone to college and returned in a post 9-11, post-Occupy world. Bloated national security budgets have spawned departments whose justification stems from donning teflon and kicking in doors searching for black clothing. Financial corruption and inequity have spawned opportunistic vandals who rent cars and compulsively text one another high fives. In the world of accepted reality anarchists haven’t seen much successful violence since the McKinley assassination and even the feds concede that the 1999 TWO protests in Seattle were the height of extreme, politically motivated disruption.

In early November of 2012 Mark Kennedy, formerly with Britian’s National Domestic Extremism Unit and now working for security adviser the Densus Group, was discredited for false claims against a group of anarchists in France known as the Tarnac 9. In 2008 heavily armed gendarmes and the media raided the small French village of Tarnac and arrested nine activists in suspicion of vandalizing the regional TGV train network. A lesson was being made in France where successive waves of inner-city youth riots and labor strikes joined Europe-wide protests met a growing recession and government fiscal policy. No member of the Tarnac 9 has been accused of any crime.

America recently enjoyed its most widespread outpouring of discontent since the Vietnam War. Although few epicenters of disruption proved more than a headache for local police the uptick in political surveillance rivals the heights of civil rights era paranoia. Operations have recently made the news. Arrests were made in Ohio on May Day after an attempt to detonate dummy explosives furnished by an undercover agent. Less than a month later police arrested five people in Chicago on charges of attempted terrorism. As discredited British spy Kennedy indicates the evidence in the latter case, supplied by informants and unused materials supplied by law enforcement, is currently flimsy.

Are police, through tireless and careful work, preventing terrible things from happening or are they inspiring terrible things which they can prevent?

Hurt feelings in the game of cops and robbers last for years. The Pacific Northwest has seen the ascendency of Earth First, the radical group who can claim the most impressive and admirable campaign America has witnessed in decades. Military shipments leaving ports in Olympia and beyond have been continually disrupted. During labor disputes in Longview, Washington, activists disabled train tracks servicing the port.

These disruptive actions don’t turn into bloodbaths. For all the bluster of anarchist poetry reaction to the detainment of three innocents jailed for refusal to testify under the auspices of a questionable legal tactic has been as corrosive and dangerous as smashed bank windows are to capitalism. Solidarity actions of spraypaint heroism under cover of anonymity and banner drops from overpasses are not bombs outside a Federal Detention Center. Squadrons of FBI agents pouring over hours of security footage of people changing out of black clothing aren’t saving western civilization. The cops justify their existence as long as the anarchists have their eternal struggle and both can remain focused on one another for the rest of time. But none of this makes time pass any faster for the three people imprisoned for no crime whatsoever.

Photo by JOSHUA TRUJILLO / SEATTLEPI.COM from the article May Day Protests Turn Violent in Downtown Seattle published May 2nd, 2012 in Seattle PI.

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