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Grand Jury Targets Activists in Connection with AETA

By Lanye
Nor'easter* #9

On Nov. 17, 2009, Minneapolis activists Carrie Feldman and Scott DeMuth were jailed for refusing to cooperate with a federal grand jury in Davenport, Iowa. The Davenport grand jury was likely an attempt to generate indictments for an unsolved Animal Liberation Front action in 2004 at the University of Iowa. There is a long history of grand juries being used to target radical movements, including Black liberation, anti-colonial struggles, white anti-imperialist movements, and Earth and animal liberation movements. Grand juries are used to generate indictments but do not have to be related to a specific 'crime,' and the prosecutor is under no obligation to disclose what they are investigating. The jurors are not screened for bias, the prosecutor runs the proceedings--which happen in secret--and the people subpoenaed are not allowed to have a lawyer present in the courtroom. In the past decade alone, grand juries have targeted former Black Panthers (the San Francisco 8, in 2005), the Puerto Rican Independence movement (three New York activists, in 2007), and several Muslim activists and Earth liberation activists. Many of these activists served time in jail rather than cooperate with this corrupt proceeding. Like them, Feldman refused to testify, and was incarcerated for over four months even though she was never accused of committing any crime. She was only released when the prosecutor decided her testimony was 'no longer needed.'

DeMuth also refused to testify and was taken to jail, but two days later, he was charged with conspiracy under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). If convicted, he faces three to five years in prison. He was released on Nov. 30 pending trial (set to begin on Sept. 13, 2010).

AETA was signed into law in late 2006 after being pushed through Congress by influential biomedical and agribusiness industry groups. The law essentially criminalizes and defines as 'terrorist' any activity that interferes with an animal enterprise's ability to turn a profit. Passed in the context of the post-9/11 'war on terror,' it broadens the definition of terrorism and is a clear example of an industry using the legal system to protect its financial interests.

There is no substantive evidence connecting DeMuth or Feldman to the 2004 action. (At the time, Feldman was only 15 years old and DeMuth only 17; both resided in the Twin Cities.) Instead, the prosecution is targeting them for their political beliefs and the work they do in their communities.

Feldman has been involved in many activist projects in the Twin Cities, including Coldsnap Legal Collective, the Jack Pine Community Center (JPCC) and Earth Warriors Are OK! (EWOK!)--a collective committed to supporting political prisoners, particularly those targeted by the Green Scare.

DeMuth has been involved in the Anarchist Black Cross, the JPCC and EWOK!, as well as the Anpao Duta (Red Dawn) Collective--a Dakota community journal building awareness of growing Dakota decolonization struggles. He is also a part of Oyate Nipi Kte (The People Shall Live)--a collective working to acquire land to establish liberated space for traditional Dakota language, cultural, spiritual and community immersion in order to plant the seeds of political self-determination and sovereignty.

DeMuth and Feldman's incarceration and the subsequent terrorism charges against DeMuth are indicative of the length to which the state will go to stifle dissent and create a chilling effect on movements for social justice. While only a handful of people so far have been charged under the AETA and its predecessor, the AEPA, it sets a dangerous precedent. The continual expansion of what is defined as 'terrorism' is intended to scare people away from social justice movements and has already resulted in the detention and incarceration of hundreds of Muslims living in the United States, as well as increased repression, harassment and isolation of already incarcerated political prisoners. And, of course, if the animal enterprise lobby can get a law criminalizing the animal rights movement, other industry groups could easily follow suit. The AETA is harmful to more than just the animal rights movement: Activists like Scott DeMuth and Carrie Feldman have to spend months fighting bogus charges while their communities face increased scrutiny and harassment from law enforcement--which paves the way for laws further criminalizing communities whose interests come up against corporate profit and power.

The State uses repression to undermine resistance and to grow the prison industrial complex, minimizing threats to its own stability and feeding the need for an ever growing prison population in one fell swoop. The Davenport affair is no exception. As is clear in this case, and in thousands of others, the State intends to use politically motivated legislation and prosecution to destroy our movements. And equally clear is that, once again, the State has misjudged the strength of our convictions and our capacity for solidarity with each other. Feldman spent four months in jail rather than testify to a grand jury, and DeMuth faces years in prison.

In the Twin Cities, Iowa and across the country, many people stand with them. As the State continues its relentless push to lock up millions of people, stifle resistance and criminalize dissent, we can and will continue to come together to fight these bogus charges, the criminalization of our movements and the prison industrial complex itself.

For more information and to find out what you can do, check out the Davenport grand jury web site.

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