Grand Jury Reflections with Craig Rosebraugh
from No Compromise Issue 22


When I was first subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury in 1997, I was fortunate to have a decent amount of support both in the local Portland community and across the country. At the time I didn’t know much about grand juries, except that they are a tool used by the U.S. government to gain information to assist in criminal investigations. Out of a personal necessity I spent a great amount of time learning about the secret proceedings, their history, and their consequences for those that refuse to cooperate with the State.

I was instantly appalled after realizing that in front of a federal grand jury, I was not allowed to have an attorney present to represent me. Furthermore, I was shocked to find that I did not have the right to plead the Fifth Amendment to questions and that if I did not cooperate I risked federal imprisonment for eighteen months or the remaining length of the grand jury. Naturally, this was intimidating – at least to a degree.

My response to the first subpoena back in 1997 was to attempt to enter the proceedings and demonstrate to the grand jury that I had done nothing wrong and was only being harassed. This was my first mistake and would not be one I would make again. Upon entering the courtroom, I witnessed the jury seated in front of me, glaring at me as though I was nothing more than an evil terrorist worthy of prosecution or perhaps something worse. To all of the questions pertaining to myself or other individuals or groups, I pleaded the Fifth Amendment. The few remaining questions dealt with theoretical information about animal rights and environmental beliefs. My second mistake was in believing I could answer these questions and convince the jury members of the importance of pursuing these social and political causes. I soon learned that it was not only unlikely that I would convince even one person on that jury (especially because there were fur farmers and families of fur farmers on the jury), it was also wrong and inexcusable for me to answer any of the questions posed to me.

Through this initial experience, I realized that any direct cooperation with the grand jury simply translates into a form of legitimizing for the secret proceedings. More importantly, any question answered in the grand jury may have severe consequences not only for the witness, but also for parties unknown and those under investigation. While I only answered a few questions pertaining to my own ideological beliefs on the environment and animal issues, I still, to a degree, legitimized the proceedings and likely invited more subpoenas to come my way.

Sure enough, I received two more subpoenas late in 1997 to testify before the same federal grand jury, as well as supply documents relating to both the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front. This time, I would not voluntarily go inside. Instead, I was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals and brought into a room, where I appeared before a judge asking me why I was refusing to testify. After my three seemingly valid reasons were rejected, he ordered the Marshals to take me into the grand jury room in handcuffs. Once inside, I took the Fifth Amendment to all the questions, believing that I was going to be held in contempt. To my surprise, forty-five minutes later I was released.

A third grand jury subpoena came my way in February 1998, demanding that I submit to F.B.I. fingerprinting, allegedly so investigators could rule me out as a suspect. As my fingerprints were on file in many states across the country, this just seemed ridiculous and I willingly gave my fingerprints, as they could not harm anyone other than myself. Yet, this still translated into a form of cooperation, as I was to a minute degree playing the game and legitimizing it.

During the first federal raid on my home in 2000, I received a fourth grand jury subpoena, pertaining to the investigation into several ALF and ELF actions in the Pacific Northwest. A few days later, I received a hand-delivered letter from the F.B.I stating that I was now considered an official target of the grand jury investigation. Whereas up until this point I had just been “officially” considered a witness, now I was faced with multiple federal charges, including violating the Rico Act, aiding and abetting, conspiracy, violating the Hobbs Act, and more.

With assistance from hired counsel, I attended the grand jury session and pleaded the Fifth Amendment to every question. Upon releasing me, the Assistant U.S. Attorney handed my attorney a letter advising that I had been “granted” immunity, which means my Fifth Amendment right had been stripped away from me for future grand jury appearances. Quickly, the U.S. Attorney’s office served me with another subpoena, one that meant I would have to answer the questions posed to me or face contempt charges.

At the next grand jury session, I worked my way through each question, taking the Fifth Amendment where I was still able to, and to every question I was forced to answer I simply responded, “I do not recall.” This form of non-cooperation allowed me to answer the questions while proving absolutely no information and seriously frustrating the Assistant U.S. Attorney. I was again let go, only to be served with another subpoena to testify later in 2000. Both this subpoena and another I would receive in 2001 were dismissed, as I had demonstrated a firm commitment to not cooperating with the grand jury system and investigation into the ALF and ELF.

Since I received my first subpoena back in 1997, many more resources pertaining to how to effectively deal with grand juries and subpoenas have become available for activists. However, there still appears to be a recurring problem associated with “activists” willingly cooperating with grand juries. From the Justin Samuel situation, to that of local environmentalists in Portland and Eugene-- to name a few recent examples-- cooperation is inexcusable and directly leads to others being subpoenaed and investigated, or even worse-- caught.

There simply is no plausible excuse for someone involved in a social or political movement to testify before any grand jury. To do so clearly puts others, as well as the entire movement, at risk. While support for those facing grand jury subpoenas is necessary and crucial, the ultimate decision on the response to a grand jury subpoena rests with the individual served. Unfortunately, this decision can severely impact the freedom and lives of others. To ensure this decision is properly made and beneficial for all those within the particular movement, any individual cooperating with a grand jury (or any investigative agency) must face severe repercussions.

As any movement progresses, the opposition will continually implement more severe repression to neutralize it. The task of the movement is to realize that repression is inevitable and therefore must be prepared for and dealt with effectively. Allowing those in a movement to cooperate with the opposition is not only ineffective, but it is ultimately suicide and will lead to the complete demise of the struggle.

No Compromise.