It’s useful to examine a case like that of Tami Wheeler
to see how a seemingly well-intentioned activist can be reduced
to testifying against her friends. This represents a series
of painful lessons all activists should heed. The good news
is that the vast majority of activists recognize the inherent
harm in talking to law enforcement. But when even one activist
becomes a snitch, it’s one too many.
Lesson 1: Loose Lips Sink Ships
Wheeler’s decision to take her attorney’s advice
to consider a deal with prosecutors that would involve her
providing any kind of information to them violated one of
the most fundamental rules of activism - the golden rule of
It simply cannot be stressed enough that, other than identifying
yourself if arrested, you are under no obligation to talk
to law enforcement agents. You have a right to remain silent,
so use it! Failing to do so not only jeopardizes yourself
but also puts your fellow activists at risk, and can end up
having an impact on our entire movement.
Even answering questions that seem completely harmless can
end up landing people in jail or can assist the agents in
developing personality profiles of activists and structural
diagrams of activist groups. But the full scope of the damage
you may do simply can’t be known. For example, confirming
that an activist was in town attending a protest on a particular
day may turn out to be a key fact in building a case against
her for having taken part in a separate action under investigation.
Even if the information you 0give to law enforcement agents
is not used as evidence, it can still be very damaging. It
can give law enforcement leads, provide the basis for issuing
a subpoena to another activist, or be used to help construct
“intent” for an activist facing trial. Another
common ploy used by law enforcement is to try to convince
an activist that the agents already know everything. Don’t
believe the hype! Even if agents do “know” something,
that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be admissible
in a court of law (unless, of course, you help them corroborate
Lesson 2: Don’t put too much trust in lawyers
When facing serious charges it is, of course, important to
retain legal representation. At the same time, it’s
also important to recognize that most lawyers will not give
a second thought to the good of the movement or your fellow
activists. Many won’t even put your own interests ahead
of their own-- many attorneys will simply look for a quick
settlement so they can move on to other cases; others may
try to pressure activists into testifying against their comrades
“for their own good.”
Finding a lawyer who will respect your desire to protect
your colleagues and stay true to your beliefs thus becomes
essential. Attorneys for the National Lawyers Guild tend to
understand this, and they are generally worth contacting.
Alternatively, you can contact No Compromise at 831-425-3007
for assistance in finding a movement attorney in your area.
Lesson 3: Reach out to movement experts
There’s a natural desire, when facing government harassment,
to reach out to your friends and comrades for advice about
how to deal with the situation. However, it’s incredibly
important to make sure you not only talk to people you know
and trust, but also to our movement’s experts in dealing
with these types of cases. For referrals to movement experts
to consult with, please contact No Compromise (see above).
Lesson 4: Agreements to snitch can have devastating
Another clear lesson from Wheeler’s case is that, once
you are arrested, circumstances may change dramatically. Wheeler
and Brasfield had no idea prior to their arrest that they
might be charged with felonies for their actions. Thus, making
an agreement to let others testify against you if they’re
arrested may turn out to have effects you never dreamed of.
While Brasfield’s eight and a half months in jail was
no picnic, many activists are sentenced to far worse. Imagine
for a moment that you and a couple of friends had decided
to torch a few SUVs. Unfortunately, you are all arrested and
find yourselves facing Criminal Mischief charges, which carry
a maximum sentence of one year. Feeling noble, you volunteer
to take all the heat for it and urge your friends to testify
against you. The next thing you know, you find the charges
against you have been changed to include multiple felonies.
Suddenly the maximum possible sentence changes to over 100
The bottom line? The facts of a case can change, and to
make an agreement ahead of time that it’s OK for others
to testify against you is to invite disaster.
Furthermore, without a clear ‘No Compromise’
mind-set, it becomes far too easy for the police or F.B.I.
to intimidate a person into making decisions under duress
while his or her judgment is impaired. Our movement-wide policy
of no snitching– ever —no matter the circumstances,
precludes such dilemmas and their potentially devastating
fallout when mistakes are made.
Lesson 5: Agreements to snitch hurt our movement
Beyond potential grievous personal effects from so-called
snitch agreements, our movement cannot afford to accept such
agreements. If a person who is arrested claims to have been
granted permission to snitch on a friend, there’s no
way for us, as a movement, to verify this while that friend
is on the run. This could then pressure the activist who is
not in custody to come out of hiding long enough to verify
or debunk the alleged agreement. An activist might even feel
guilted into saying it was alright for a comrade to testify
against him or her. Allowing such pressures would hinder direct
action, and this is simply unacceptable.
When law enforcement agencies see us give up our friends,
they see it as a weakness they can exploit. Accepting ‘agreements
to snitch’ would make us appear a weak movement of snitches,
whose activists only need to be leaned on harder to make them
cave. It is only by embracing a security culture over a snitch
culture that our movement will successfully continue its brilliant
history of carrying out liberations and economic sabotage
Lesson 6: If you can’t do the time, don’t
do the crime!
If you’re going to participate in illegal action, you
have to go into it with the understanding that the action
may fail and that you may end up in jail for years. With careful
planning this isn’t likely, but it’s still something
one must prepare for. If you can’t even stomach the
thought of spending a few months in jail, you do not belong
in a campaign group in this day and age of government repression.
So shape up, and think about why you’re really in this
movement and what it really means to you. Isn’t helping
to save animals from torture worth spending some time in jail?
But, don’t kid yourself about it. If you aren’t
willing to do the time, don’t do the crime!
Lesson 7: There’s no place in the movement
Sadly, someone who becomes a snitch by implicating other
activists to law enforcement agents as having participated
in illegal/underground actions simply can never be trusted
again. Violating such a deep-seated trust demonstrates a fundamental
lack of commitment to the movement. Once such a trust has
been violated, there’s no way to ensure that it will
not happen again, unless we ostracize the snitch from our
While in some cases it may be tempting to afford a remorseful
snitch the benefit of the doubt and give him or her a second
chance, it is imperative that we recognize how much harm this
could do. Letting a snitch back in the movement could jeopardize
other activists who don’t realize what s/he is capable
of. Even if a snitch sticks purely to above-ground activism,
it’s all too likely s/he will end up passing on harmful
information yet again. After finding initial success with
a particular source, law enforcement agents will likely continue
to work on prying more information out of the snitch.
Furthermore, forgiving snitches would send a message that
one can simply testify against a fellow activist to get a
lighter sentence, and then simply be forgiven afterwards with
no real consequences. Not only would this promote a ‘snitch
culture,’ but it would also send a message to underground
activists that the above ground movement won’t be there
to support them and do what little we can to try to prevent
anyone from snitching on them.
Law enforcement agencies certainly believe the old adage
“once a snitch, always a snitch,” and we would
be foolish not to take it very seriously ourselves.