FBI Steps Up Repression of Activists With Formation of Grand Jury
October 31, 2003

Detroit, MI- Tuesday morning, the FBI and Coast Guard issued subpoenas to Marie Mason and Frank Ambrose of the Sweetwater Alliance and Massasauga Earth First!. The subpoenas ordered the two to submit fingerprints and DNA samples to a federal grand jury being convened in Grand Rapids. Ambrose and Mason plan to fight the subpoenas. They believe that the grand jury demands are illegal and are not issued as part of a real investigation, but rather a blatant attempt to harass activists and gather information about dissident movements.

Grand juries are antiquated legal bodies, a leftover from early British law. They conduct an investigation in order to determine if there is sufficient evidence to press charges against the individual. They have been used extensively as a political tool throughout the country, especially under this administration, to intimidate and repress activist communities. When a person is subpoenaed by a grand jury, they must comply or risk imprisonment. In this way, an innocent person can be jailed for noncompliance, whether or not evidence exists to convict them of any crime. Those subpoenaed to testify, lose their right to plead the 5th amendment and the right to have legal counsel present during any of the process. People are forced to decide between talking to the FBI and lending credibility to these questionable proceedings, or going to jail. [for extensive information on grand juries, see http://www.protectcivilliberties.com/grandjuries.html]

Marie and Frank have been very vocal in the fight to end the water shut offs in Detroit and Highland Park, as well as in the campaign to shut down the Ice Mountain bottled water plant in Stanwood, MI. The Detroit water board is violating thousands of people’s human rights by shutting off their water for non-payment. In Highland Park, the city manager (a state appointed official) has shut off, or is threatening to shut off over half of the city’s 16,000 residents. While our poorest citizens are denied access to water, corporations get it for free. Despite a $2 billion dollar budget deficit for Michigan, Gov. Granholm is giving Ice Mountain $10 million in tax abatements while they pump our ground water for free. Ice Mountain, a subsidiary of Nestle, makes profits of over $1 million a day from the sale of our water.

The water campaign has made successful links between the urban and rural struggles for water rights. "The corporations and their stooges in the state government want to continue to use the divide and conquer strategy to weaken this movement and facilitate their bid to privatize control of Michigan’s water. They think they can split us along racial and class lines. They think they can frighten people with grand juries and the FBI. They’re just plain wrong", said Mason.

Water activists across the state have been harassed by FBI visits in recent weeks. It is believed that the FBI is investigating the attempted sabotage at the Ice Mountain bottling plant.

"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," said Ambrose. " They want people to be afraid to get involved, for fear of being harassed by the FBI. They make people feel like they are common criminals for caring about protecting water. It is inappropriate for the government to hire out its henchmen to the corporations who want to despoil this planet."

The FBI has its own checkered past. Just recently, the FBI was found to have violated two Earth First! activists’ civil rights 11 years ago in California, after someone attempted to assassinate them with a car bomb in 1991. Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were awarded $4.4 million by a jury to compensate for their losses due to the FBI’s campaign to silence and marginalize them. At the time of the bombing, the two were organizing for Redwood Summer, a summer of actions to protect the ancient redwoods in California.

The two subpoenaed local activists, Marie Mason and Frank Ambrose, have hosted events in the past to educate the public about FBI abuses of power and how the agency uses their power to divide and disrupt political movements. There is a great need for the public to be aware of past government abuses.

"In order to prevent any more harassment, we need to stand together and denounce the FBI and the corporations they are protecting. The FBI is no friend of the people or of the earth," said Dana Gross, Sweetwater Alliance.

Several years ago, the FBI engaged in a campaign of harassment against the two environmental activists under similar circumstances in Indiana. There, several groups were working in coalition to end logging on public lands. In an attempt to divide a successful activist community, the FBI raided Mason and Ambrose’s home and brought false charges against Ambrose. The government later dropped the charges, after 9 months of attempting to brand him a terrorist in the media, due to a total lack of evidence.

The Water Defense Committee is asking people to call the office of the Attorney General and demand that he un-convene the Grand Jury:

Assistant US Attorney Lloyd K. Meyer
Grand Rapids, MI