Feds Hope to Set an Example With "Eco-terrorist" Who Refused to Snitch: Marie Mason Faces 20 Years
Before Marie Mason ever set foot in the courtroom, before the ink on her indictment had even dried, the government was smearing her as a "terrorist."
At a press conference announcing her arrest, an FBI agent said "domestic terrorism is a top priority of the FBI." A police chief called the 1999 Earth Liberation Front arson at the Michigan State University campus, targeting genetic-engineering research, a "significant act of domestic terrorism," though no one had been injured. And taking things even further, MSU President Simon argued that these "terrorists" were attacking freedom itself.
As a mother of two and a longtime community organizer, Mason had a lot to lose. Still, she stood her ground.
Soon, news broke that her former husband, Frank Ambrose, had worn a wire to entrap his friends and spy on lawful environmental gatherings.
Ambrose had made the mistake of throwing away personal records in a dumpster. According to a search warrant, a dumpster-diver found boxes that contained Earth First! magazines, maps of Michigan with the location of an ELF attack highlighted, an M-80 explosive device, a block of candle wax, and even a gas mask labeled "Frank’s Gas Mask."
The dumpster-diver called the cops. In the words of a retired FBI agent who was involved in the case, "There’s no question that the discovery in the dumpster was the catalyst that caused this thing to move forward."
The FBI easily traced the materials to Ambrose, and promised to soften his punishment if he cooperated. According to the government, Ambrose went above and beyond what was expected by the FBI. His cooperation "has been nothing short of remarkable, both in terms of the time and effort he put into it and in terms of its value to federal law enforcement," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Hagen Frank.
He recorded 178 conversations with a variety of "targets," traveling out of state seven times. The government credits him with bringing "long-stymied eco-terror investigations back to life." After turning on his former wife, and violating the trust and confidence of untold numbers of activists, Ambrose would have his sentence reduced to nine years in prison.
Still, Mason stood her ground. The government offered her 15-20 years in prison if she agreed to name names; otherwise, prosecutors said they would push for life in prison. Mason said she would accept a non-cooperating plea agreement similar to those in the Operation Backfire cases, but she refused to become a government informant.
It looked like the case would head to trial. And then, just two hours before the deadline for the agreement expired, the government relented and offered a new deal. Mason would have to name Frank Ambrose (who had already named himself and become an informant) but she would not have to provide any additional testimony or debriefings.
"Because of the cooperation of her former husband Ambrose, there is no expectation that Mason would win a jury trial," Marie Mason’s support committee said. "Part of this decision is also the long sentences handed to the very few Green Scare arrestees who have gone to trail, such as Eric McDavid, as is the intense financial and emotional strain that this process is taking on Mason’s immediate family."
The government labeled Mason’s arrest and plea a victory in the "War on Terrorism," but they still wanted more.
Mason had a history of resisting government intimidation. In 2002, she and Ambrose fought a grand jury subpoena investigating sabotage at an Ice Mountain water bottling plant. In an ominous message at that time, Ambrose told No Compromise: "The FBI’s unwelcome visits are meant to serve as a distraction and a deterrent to citizens’ ability to express their discontent with government policies. They want people to be afraid to get involved, for fear of being harassed by the FBI."
Ambrose would later turn his back on such convictions. But Mason refused, and that didn’t sit well with the government.
In court filings, prosecutors argued that Mason’s refusal to cooperate as elevated her "to the status of movement heroine" among environmentalists.
That’s a striking insight into one of the reasons environmentalists and animal rights activists are labeled the "number one domestic terrorism threat." Why is it such a government concern that, as one prosecutor said, "She has become a figure of admiration to that community"?
Because when people refuse to buy into the scare-mongering, when they refuse to name names even at great personal cost, when they take principled stands even as the full weight of the government is bearing down upon them, it shakes the very foundations of the "Green Scare." It challenges the power of fear, and sends a message that others can do the same.