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--
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.