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January 15, 2004
Animal-rights activist arrested
Case shines light on FBI's efforts to dismantle liberation fronts
By PAUL SHUKOVSKY
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
An agent with the FBI's domestic terrorism squad arrested an animal rights activist yesterday for allegedly lying to a Seattle federal grand jury investigating an arson attack on an Olympia forest-product company.
The complaint against Allison Lance Watson provides a rare window into the FBI's efforts to dismantle the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front, which the bureau considers to be among the greatest domestic terrorism threats facing the nation.
Watson faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if she is convicted on the charge of making a false statement to the grand jury. Led into the courtroom in shackles, Watson was released without having to post a cash bond pending a preliminary hearing next month.
She is the wife of Paul Watson, most well-known in Washington state for leading the protests in 1999 when the Makah Tribe resumed hunting gray whales.
The government's case laid out in Special Agent Fernando Gutierrez's complaint reveals how the FBI is working to find the perpetrators of such actions as the 2001 firebombing of the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington. To date, the bureau has cracked few cases involving the Animal Liberation Front or the Earth Liberation Front because the groups work in small, well-disciplined cells that communicate with others through secure Internet channels.
But to crack more cases, federal investigators are focusing on members of environmental and animal-rights groups outside the mainstream who claim they don't participate in violence such as arson and vandalism. Yesterday demonstrators from some of those groups gathered outside the federal courthouse in Seattle to protest what they believe are repressive tactics of government investigators.
In May 2000, the Watsons were hauling equipment between the Southern California office of Paul Watson's Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the organization's office in Friday Harbor. For that purpose, said Paul Watson, they rented a Penske truck.
About 2:30 a.m. on May 7, 2000, a fire ripped through the headquarters of Holbrook Inc., an Olympia timber company. Three weeks later, the Earth Liberation Front issued a communique claiming credit for the crime on behalf of a previously unknown group called "Revenge of the Trees."
That same night, someone broke into the Dai-Zen Egg Farm in Burlington and stole 228 chickens. The Animal Liberation Front issued a communique saying the chickens had been placed in "loving homes." The Seattle grand jury is also investigating that raid.
At 8:30 a.m. on May 7, 2000, a Penske rental truck pulled into the AM/PM Mini Market in Rochester, about 12 miles south of Olympia. According to employees of the store, "the occupants of the truck dumped a number of plastic bags containing clothes in a Dumpster behind the store," the complaint says. It had the same license plate as the one rented by Allison Watson, the document asserts.
A Thurston County sheriff's deputy subsequently called to the scene found five bags containing "three sets of dark clothes, two black ski masks, three pairs of gloves, a wrapper from a pair of bolt cutters and a wrapper of wire ties." The clothes were wet and covered with grass. The FBI obtained footage from the AM/PM's surveillance camera and identified two people in the truck, Gina Lynn and Joshua Trentor.
"Both Lynn and Trentor have lengthy histories of involvement in animal rights activism, including having participated in animal releases, and, in Trentor's case, being arrested in connection with ALF-claimed vandalism. Thus I believe that the AM/PM Mini Market surveillance film captures evidence of Lynn, Trentor and the other male disposing of evidence of crimes that they had committed earlier on May 6-7, 2000," Agent Gutierrez wrote.
Last August, Watson was called before the grand jury and refused to answer questions by invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Paul Watson said her refusal was based on the conviction that grand juries are repressive "Star Chamber" proceedings in which people are stripped of their right to be represented by an attorney. And he declared that Sea Shepherd is dedicated to enforcing international legal protections for marine life and is not associated in any way with the so-called liberation groups.
But last Oct. 23, Allison Watson was called again, given immunity from prosecution and compelled to testify or face contempt of court charges , according to the complaint.
Watson was asked to answer what must have seemed like innocuous questions. After her arrest, Paul Watson sat holding the jewelry his wife was forced to surrender before becoming a prisoner. He said they asked her questions like, "Do you know this person or where were you on such a date."
As she sat before the grand jury in October, one of those questions was whether she knew Gina Lynn. Watson described Lynn as a friend with whom she speaks regularly.
Then the federal prosecutor asked her whether the rental truck was always in her possession. She said yes. The prosecutor followed up by asking whether she had lent it to anyone. She said no. And Watson was asked whether Lynn was ever in the truck. Again, Watson said no. All these answers were lies, according to the complaint.
Outside the courthouse, about a half-dozen demonstrators passed out a flier titled "Grand Juries, Modern Day Tools of Political Repression." The flier notes that "the grand jury system, long since abolished in most democratic nations, denies an individual her most fundamental of civil rights."
Paul Watson, a celebrated defender of marine mammals and founder and president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, spoke proudly of how his wife had not long ago been released from a Japanese jail were she was imprisoned for a short time for freeing numerous dolphins from nets. Watson said Sea Shepherd paid an $8,000 fine for his wife and one other activist. "That came out to about $600 per dolphin. We thought it was a good deal."
And Stu Sugarman, a Portland attorney representing Allison Watson, called Agent Gutierrez's complaint "extremely one-sided. The truth will come out."
ACTIVISTS ON THE ATTACK
The Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front have claimed responsibility for hundreds of illegal activities over the last few years. Here are some of the more recent ones:
Sept. 23, 2003 -- Mecosta County, Mich. The Earth Liberation Front claimed to have left incendiary devices at a pumping station for a water bottling plant owned by Nestle Waters North America.
Sept. 19, 2003 -- San Diego. The Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for torching four houses under construction and left a banner reading "Development destruction. Stop raping nature."
Sept. 6, 2003 -- Santa Fe, N.M. The Earth Liberation Front claimed to have spray-painted a third of the SUVs at a Land Rover dealership with such words as "avarice" and "gluttony."
Aug. 26, 2003 -- Sultan. The Animal Liberation Front claimed credit for a raid on a fur farm in which 10,000 mink were released from pens.
Aug. 22, 2003 -- Earth Liberation Front actions in Southern California including in Arcadia at Mercedes-Benz dealer. Ten SUVs were spray-painted with "terrorist," "killer" and "ELF." In Duarte, a Mitsubishi dealership had its building and 20 of its vehicles painted with "ELF" and the phrases "gross polluter" and "We (heart) pollution." In West Covina, there was a fire at a GM dealership, destroying and damaging several SUVs, including several Hummers. A fire also destroyed a warehouse at the dealership. Messages left there included "I (heart) Pollution," "American Wastefulness" and "ELF".
Aug.1, 2003 -- San Diego. The Earth Liberation Front accepted responsibility for what it called the "largest act of environmental sabotage in U.S. history." Fire caused $50 million in damage to a five-story condominium complex.
P-I reporter Paul Shukovsky can be reached at 206-448-8072 or