Those arrested on December 7, 2005, and subsequent sweeps, were accused of property destruction intended to preserve the environment and animal life. Despite the fact that none of the arrestees were accused of injury to any human or animal, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the corporate-dominated Bush administration described the accused as being the nation’s number-one domestic terrorist threat. Several of those arrested entered plea deals in the District of Oregon to avoid sentences in excess of 1,000 years. Briana Waters, the mother of a young child and violin instructor, still faces trial in Washington federal court and asserts her innocence on all counts. Several individuals are currently being sought by federal law enforcement and are believed to be out of the country. One of the accused died of an apparent suicide late last year while being held in an Arizona jail. The government asserts that this witch hunt is ongoing and has no end in sight.

Operation Backfire arrests are the capstone of a broader “Green Scare” which is strikingly similar to the Red Scare of the 1940s and ‘50s. The phrase “Green Scare” has been used to include not just the cases from the Operation Backfire indictments, but also the cases of Tre Arrow, the SHAC7, the Auburn 3, and Rodney Coronado, as well as recent legislation such as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which identifies non-violent activism as acts of terrorism if it reduces the profitability of exploitive corporations.

Responding to this repression, supporters designated today, December 7, as an International Day of Solidarity with Green Scare Indictees, Detainees, and Political Prisoners. Forty-four events in eight different countries have now been scheduled to take place on or around this day.

An Overview of the Eco-Sabotage Cases

On December 7, 2005, one of the largest roundups of environmental and animal liberation activists in American history began. Using the code name “Operation Backfire,” the FBI arrested seven people in four different states. Chelsea Gerlach, Darren Thurston, William Rodgers, Kendall Tankersley (Sarah Kendall Harvey), Kevin Tubbs, Daniel McGowan and Stanislas Meyerhoff were arrested for allegedly taking part in a wide variety of actions the government attributes to the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). On that very same day, several people across the Pacific Northwest were subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury to be convened in Eugene, Oregon. One of those taken into custody, Darren Thurston (a Canadian citizen), was served with a subpoena and later indicted in U.S. District Court with federal conspiracy charges and charges related to the arson of a horse corral near Susanville, California. Within days of the first arrests it was revealed that a paid informant, Jacob Ferguson, admitted to participating in several arsons and given federal investigators and prosecutors information which allegedly supported the indictments. It was also revealed that Meyerhoff had agreed to be a federal cooperating witness almost immediately upon arrest and interrogation.

On December 22, William Rodgers was found dead in his jail cell in Flagstaff, Arizona, from an apparent suicide. Rodgers worked at the Catalyst Bookstore and Infoshop in Prescott, Arizona, and was involved in ecological struggles for many years in different parts of the United States.

On January 20, 2006, federal prosecutors and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced a sweeping 65-count indictment, including two conspiracy charges, against 11 individuals relating to 17 different incidents in Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Colorado and California. The indictment alleged that the accused were members of a fictional network, referred to in the indictments as “The Family,” and that they had conspired to commit several acts of arson. The indictment charged various defendants with arson, attempted arson, and using and carrying a destructive device. The destructive device charge, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), carries a 30-year mandatory sentence, with a mandatory life sentence for a second conviction of this charge. The government used this charge and the conspiracy charge to coerce individuals to become informants by threatening them with multiple life sentences for acts of uninhabited property destruction. In addition to the six people arrested on December 7, the Oregon indictment also named Jonathan Paul, Suzanne Savoie, Joseph Dibee, Rebecca Rubin (Canadian citizen) and Josephine Overaker. Paul was arrested in Oregon a few days before the indictment was announced, and Savoie turned herself in soon after Paul’s arrest. Dibee, Rubin and Overaker are believed to be out of the country.

In the weeks that followed, the government coerced and intimidated the defendants with various threats -- primarily, life in prison. Five individuals were then revealed as “confidential sources” for the government’s case. Subsequently, on February 23, Nathan Fraser Block and Joyanna L. Zacher were arrested in Olympia, Washington. The government issued a new indictment on March 15 which included Block and Zacher who were held in custody and facing life plus 1,115 years in prison for their minor roles in two separate arsons.

On June 28, the government arraigned non-cooperating defendants Block, Zacher, McGowan and Paul on yet another 65-count superseding indictment.

On July 20 and 21, Thurston, Tubbs, Tankersley, Meyerhoff, Gerlach and Savoie pled guilty to a variety of conspiracy, arson and attempted arson charges in U.S. District Court in Eugene. Federal prosecutors recommended that Thurston be sentenced to 37 months imprisonment; Tubbs, 168 months; Tankersley, 51 months; Meyerhoff, 188 months; Gerlach, 120 months; and Savoie, 63 months. All remaining charges against these defendants will be waived, and no additional charges will be brought against them in other districts if they fully and completely cooperate with the government’s terms of cooperation. The presiding judge granted motions by the cooperating defendants’ attorneys to seal all plea petitions, cooperation agreements, and the transcripts of the public court hearings, thus making them unavailable for public scrutiny. On August 22, upon the motion of the non-cooperating defendants, this judge granted a motion to unseal these documents but for the paragraphs regarding cooperation.

During the two days of plea deal hearings, the government announced that it would pursue upward enhancement of sentences for the six taking pleas, arguing that the federal anti-terrorism enhancement guidelines apply to their sentences as well. At the request of the federal government, Gerlach made an unusual statement at the conclusion of her plea proceeding, denouncing her actions. At the hearings of Gerlach and Meyerhoff, the government disclosed new allegations indicating additional arson incidents alleged to have occurred in Phoenix, Arizona, and the eastern district of Michigan, though neither was charged with these incidents at this time.

Several months earlier, Daniel McGowan’s attorneys filed a motion on behalf of the non-cooperating defendants compelling the government to disclose whether the National Security Agency (NSA) had conducted illegal surveillance and monitoring during the investigation. The government acknowledged that it did not know whether such surveillance existed, and the Court ordered the government to file a response to the motion.

On November 9, the remaining District of Oregon defendants Joyanna Zacher, Nathan Block, Daniel McGowan and Jonathan Paul entered a global resolution plea deal. (Note: Briana Waters is not indicted in Oregon. She is the only non-cooperating defendant in the Washington indictment and vigorously asserts her innocence.) Prior to their formal plea hearings, the four defendants withdrew their NSA motion, [Briana Waters’ defense team continues to pursue a similar NSA motion in her District of Washington case. No court hearings or rulings have been issued at this time.] In the non-cooperation plea agreements, the four defendants agreed to accept responsibility for their own roles in environmentally motivated property crimes, but do not agree to provide information or testify against anyone now or in the future. Complete, non-redacted plea agreements for these four defendants are publicly available.

During the November 9 plea hearing, Joyanna Zacher and Nathan Block each pled to one count of conspiracy, attempted arson, plus multiple arson charges from actions at the Joe Romania Chevrolet car dealership in Eugene and the Jefferson Poplar tree farm. Daniel McGowan entered a plea to one conspiracy charge plus multiple charges of arson relating to sabotage at Superior Lumber and Jefferson Poplar. The government is recommending that these three be sentenced to 96 months in federal prison. Jonathan Paul pled to one count of conspiracy and one count of arson for his minor role in the property destruction at the Cavel West horse slaughterhouse. He received a suggested sentence of 60 months in prison. During the hearing, McGowan made a statement to the court that “this plea agreement is very important to me because it allows me to accept full responsibility for my actions and at the same time remain true to my strongly held beliefs.” Outside the courthouse, Jonathan Paul’s sister Alexandra Paul read a statement that her brother “will continue to be a person deeply committed to the betterment of our society and the elimination of animal and human suffering.”

As with the other defendants, the government has indicated it will seek the “terrorism” enhancement at sentencing, which could result in up to 20 additional years of imprisonment. A status hearing to determine sentencing dates for all of the Oregon defendants will take place in Eugene on December 14 at 9:45 a.m. Just before that, at 9 a.m., Gerlach and Meyerhoff are scheduled to enter guilty pleas to additional out-of-state prosecutions.

Savoie, Tankersley, McGowan, and Paul are all out on release pending their sentencing. All other persons indicted in the District of Oregon who have been located are currently in custody.

On October 4, two informants, Jennifer Kolar and Lacey Phillabaum, pled guilty to felony charges of conspiracy, arson, and use of a destructive device during a violent act, all in relation to the University of Washington fires. They also agreed to be responsible for paying restitution to UW and victims, if any, with the specific amounts of which yet to be determined. Kolar’s recommended sentence is 5-7 years for her role in multiple arsons. Phillabaum’s recommended sentence is 3-5 year for her role in UW arson. Both women have been cooperating with the FBI extensively and are free until their sentencing dates.

The case was originally started not by law enforcement efforts, but solely by a single informant, Jacob Ferguson, a heroin addict and life-long arsonist and petty criminal. The indictments were a result of statements provided to the FBI by Ferguson, Stanislas Meyerhoff and others were coerced into making similar statements upon capture and interrogation. Ferguson and Meyerhoff have admitted to their participation in most of the alleged arsons and have admitted leadership roles. The National Lawyers Guild recently came out in strong opposition to the unconstitutional life sentences for property crimes threatened in these cases, and stated that the “government is misusing destructive device charges and engaging in selective prosecution.”

***

Misuse of Grand Juries

On March 21, Camilo Stephenson was subpoenaed to a Denver, Colorado, grand jury and questioned about the 1998 Vail ski resort fire. He denied any knowledge of any of the incidents.

Jeff Hogg and Burke Morris were subpoenaed to testify in front of federal grand juries on May 18, Hogg in Eugene, and Morris in Denver. Hogg refused to testify before the Eugene grand jury, and was held in contempt by Judge Michael Hogan and sent to jail. Hogg was then placed in custody, without having being charged with any crime. The unlawful grand jury was scheduled to expire on September 29, 2006. However, days before Jeff was to regain his freedom, the federal government extended this grand jury for six more months.

After more than six months and following the global resolution of the remaining District of Oregon cases on November 9, the government finally agreed to free Hogg. On November 15, Hogg was released from the Josephine County jail in Grant's Pass, Oregon, rejoining his partner and community. Hogg commented shortly after release: “I'm happy to be free and not to have compromised my principles in the face of the abusive grand jury system.” The government continues to threaten Hogg with another subpoena and more jail time.

In Colorado on May 28, Burke Morris answered limited questions asked by the Denver grand jury about his personal life, but denied any knowledge of other incidents he was questioned about. Morris later issued a statement: “I have the utmost respect for Jeff Hogg and hope all will support him during his incarceration for refusing to answer grand jury questions.”

On June 27, Jim Dawson of Olympia, WA, received a subpoena to appear before a grand jury at the Federal District Courthouse in Seattle, WA. This subpoena most likely came about as a result of his partner, Heather Moore, who had been contacted by the FBI a few months earlier. His appearance has been postponed because he consented to be questioned by the FBI in lieu of his scheduled grand jury appearance. The extent of his disclosure to the government is unknown at this time. As a result of this voluntary cooperation, additional subpoenas are possible.

The federal government for now has called off Craig Rosebraugh’s grand jury subpoena.

Grand juries by law are authorized only to decide whether or not to bring new indictments. In this case, grand juries are being used to gather evidence to prepare for trial, an illegal use of the grand jury as defined by law. This runaway grand jury has been convened around the country regarding this case and the larger environmental movement since 2000.

California Indictments
On April 6, California issued its indictments in connection with the 2001 horse corral fire near Susanville, CA. Justin Solondz was charged by the federal court in Sacramento, but is not in custody. Also indicted for the corral fire were Darren Thurston (whose plea on this charge was integrated into his general District of Oregon deal as a result of cooperation), Joseph Dibee and Rebecca Rubin.

Colorado Indictments
On May 18, a federal grand jury indicted Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, Stanislas Meyerhoff, Josephine Overaker and Rebecca Rubin for alleged involvement in the 1998 arson of the Vail ski resort. The Colorado federal court agreed to transfer these charges to Oregon where Gerlach and Meyerhoff have District of Oregon plea deals that incorporate their Colorado charges. On September 29, Gerlach and Meyerhoff entered guilty pleas during their District of Oregon arraignment for Vail-related charges; neither Meyerhoff nor Gerlach are expected to serve additional time in prison as a consequence of these pleas. Meyerhoff and Gerlach swore in court that Bill Rodgers was solely responsible for this alleged arson.

Washington Indictments
On March 30, Briana Waters was arrested in Seattle, WA, in connection with an alleged arson at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture in 2001. Waters, a California resident, is a violin teacher and mother of a young child. Waters was released from custody on March 31 and has a court date set for May 7, 2007. She staunchly maintains her innocence to all charges.

On May 10, Washington issued a superseding indictment. This indictment includes the destructive device charge, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), a 30-year mandatory sentence, for Waters. The indictment also added Tubbs and Solondz as defendants (with Bill Rodgers’ alleged participation) for the UW arson. Tubbs’ Washington charges are waived as a result of his plea deal.

Other informants in this case include Jennifer Kolar, of Seattle, WA, and Lacey Phillabaum of Spokane, WA. On October 4, both Kolar and Phillabaum entered plea deals in the Western Washington U.S. District Court, pleading guilty to conspiracy, arson and destructive device charges in relation to the Urban Horticulture property damage. In addition, Kolar pled guilty to charges relating to an attempted arson against the Wray Gun Club, sponsors of a turkey shoot, whose Colorado business allegedly had incendiary devices placed nearby (the alleged devices failed to ignite) -- Kolar’s Colorado charges were transferred to the Western Washington District before the hearing. Charges against Kolar in relation to an alleged arson in Redmond, Oregon against a horse-meat processing plant, will also be transferred to Washington federal court soon. During the hearing, Kolar received a suggested sentence of 5-7 years in federal prison despite facing a mandatory life sentence, Phillabaum, 3-5 years. Formal sentencing for Kolar and Phillabaum is currently scheduled for January 5, 2007. Both Kolar and Phillabaum were released without bail following their pleas. Both have been provided significant reductions in their recommended sentences as a result of extensive cooperation with the federal government against the remaining non-cooperating defendants

Charges Against Rod Coronado
In a related but separate case, federal prosecutors in San Diego unsealed an indictment in February 2006, charging environmental and Native American activist Rodney Coronado with demonstrating how to use an incendiary device. After a lecture in 2003, Coronado, 39, of Tucson, Arizona, answered a question about how he made an incendiary device used in an action that he had spent four years in federal prison for several years ago. Coronado was charged with distribution of information relating to explosives, destructive devices and weapons of mass destruction. On November 2, Coronado’s lawyer argued that the statute under which Coronado was charged violates the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. On November 15, the judge denied this motion, stating that this statute is not unconstitutional in all its applications. However, arguments as to whether the statute as applied to Coronado himself is illegal will be heard at trial. Coronado is currently in federal custody as a result of a federal conviction regarding his attempt to stop a mountain lion hunt by the federal government.

 

Support the Operation Backfire Defendants and Grand Jury Resistance!

District of Oregon
Daniel McGowan, Jonathan Paul, Nathan Block and Joyanna Zacher have taken plea deals that do not involve informing against others. Joyanna and Nathan remain in jail pre-sentencing. Please continue to support these four, before and after formal sentencing :
Nathan Block #1663667 / Lane County Jail / 101 W 5th Ave. / Eugene, OR 97401
Joyanna Zacher #1662550 / Lane County Jail / 101 W 5th Ave / Eugene, OR 97401
Support group for Nathan and Joyanna: supportersofnathanandjoyanna@gmail.com
Daniel McGowan (Released on bail!)
Support group: FriendsofDanielMcG@yahoo.com; www.supportdaniel.org
Jonathan Paul (Released on bail!)
Support group: friendsofjonathanpaul@yahoo.com

Non-cooperating Defendant, Washington Indictments
Briana Waters (Released on court-ordered electronic monitoring)
Support group: www.supportbriana.org

Grand Jury Resistance
Donations to help Jeff Hogg post-release may be sent to:
Friends of Jeff Hogg / PO Box 12271 / Eugene, OR 97440
One good information resource on grand juries and resistance to them is at: www.fbiwitchhunt.com. This page also features information on Bay Area grand juries.

Stay Informed – Information Resources
For more information, see cldc.org, greenscare.org and http://portland.indymedia.org/en/topic/greenscare/