An anti-anarchist witch-hunt

October 17, 2012

Johnny Mao, Brit Schulte and Ben Silverman detail the case of three activists in the Pacific Northwest who are in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury.

"I DO not look forward to what inevitably awaits me today, but I accept it...My convictions are unwavering and will not be shaken by their harassment. Today is October 10, 2012, and I'm ready to go to prison."

Thus wrote 24-year-old Leah-Lynn Plante in a statement as she prepared to be jailed. Plante is the third anarchist activist in the Pacific Northwest to be put behind bars for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury. She could spend as much as 18 months in prison--the full length of the grand jury term.

Plante, along with Matthew Kyle Duran and Katherine "KteeO" Olejnik, have been imprisoned as part of the fallout from a series of raids on July 25 conducted by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force--supposedly in response to instances of vandalism during this year's May Day protests in Seattle. The Task Force's warrant allowed agents to raid the homes of activists in three cities. The FBI insisted that residents hand over any "anti-government or anarchist literature," along with flags, black clothing, cell phones, hard-drives and address books.

Leah-Lynn Plante
Leah-Lynn Plante

"As if they had taken pointers from Orwell's 1984, they took books, artwork and other various literature as 'evidence,' as well as many other personal belongings, even though they seemed to know that nobody there was even in Seattle on May Day," wrote Plante.

Furthering the government fishing expedition, the three activists received subpoenas requiring them to testify in front of a grand jury, where they were asked questions regarding their political opinions and the political circles and individuals they associate with. This is a clear case of political leanings being used as proof of criminality. As Plante wrote, "They are trying to investigate anarchists and persecute them for their beliefs. This is a fishing expedition. This is a witch-hunt."

MATT DURAN was the first activist to be imprisoned. On September 12, after refusing to testify, Duran was held in contempt of court and taken into federal custody, where he would spend the next three weeks in isolation at the Sea-Tac Federal Detention Center.

What you can do

Visit the Committee Against Political Repression for updates about the case. You can also donate to help the three with their legal defense fund.

Write to the imprisoned activists. Make sure that your name and return address, as well as the activists' full names and inmate numbers, are included on the envelope and all pages of the letter (Remember that your letter will be read by prison officials. For tips on how to write to a prisoner for the first time, see "How to write your first letter to someone in prison."):

-- Katherine Olejnik #42592-086, FDC SeaTac, P.O. Box 13900, Seattle, WA 98198

-- Matthew Kyle Duran #42565-086, FDC SeaTac, P.O. Box 13900. Seattle, WA 98198

-- Leah-Lynn Plante #42611-086, FDC SeaTac, P.O. Box 13900, Seattle, WA 98198

Before refusing a second attempt to force him to testify on September 26, Duran reportedly experienced what is "normal" for dissenting activists under today's Obama administration: little access to a phone, no access to sunlight or fresh air, and no contact with visitors, fellow inmates or an attorney.

The presiding judge and prosecuting attorneys have complied with Duran's request to not set another grand jury hearing date until he requests one. On October 3, Duran finally was moved from isolation and into the general population section of the prison, where he is able to make phone calls and socialize with other inmates.

"Whatever happens, I want you to know that you are not alone and are more than capable of handling whatever is thrown at you," said Duran, in a public statement released on September 12. "Do not stop the struggle, keep organizing and fighting, or they will have won."

Katherine "KteeO" Olejnik was the second target of the state, and she also responded by refusing to testify.

On September 27, in the morning before her grand jury hearing, Olejnik and her attorney, Jennifer Kaplan, made a motion challenging the legality of the subpoenas. They argued that the government's subpoenas not only violate the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments, but also breached the right to judicial oversight in an abuse of power. But Olejnik was still placed into federal custody and isolation, where she remains.

In a statement before her latest hearing, Olejnik explained:

For me choosing to resist a grand jury is about humanity--I cannot and will not say something that could greatly harm a person's life, and providing information that could lead to long-term incarceration would be doing that. For me choosing to resist a grand jury is about freedom of speech and association--I cannot and will not be a party to a McCarthyist policy that is asking individuals to condemn each other based on political beliefs.

Duran, Plante and Olejnik have not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing, but they have been held in contempt and jailed after refusing to testify, because the government offered them immunity from prosecution--stripping them of their legal right to refuse to testify.

Describing her opposition to the government's fishing expedition, Plante noted that a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that that the grand jury was convened on March 2, 2012--two months before the actual protests.

The initial search warrants, first shown to activists in July, cited evidence linked to "destruction of federal property"--leading activists to believe that the FBI was looking for "evidence" about recent May Day protests. However, this new information reveals the extent to which the FBI have been investigating and monitoring political activists. Meanwhile, the grand jury subpoenas confirm the intent of the FBI: to attack, disrupt and neutralize political dissent.

As Plante stated after her second appearance and refusal to answer questions before the federal grand jury, "No, I will not answer their questions. I believe that these hearings are politically motivated. The government wants to use them to collect information that it can use in a campaign of repression. I refuse to have any part of it, I will never answer their questions, I will never speak."

THE PERSECUTION of this new generation of radicals fits squarely into the U.S. government's tradition of squashing dissent through force and intimidation. With door-busting tactics that span generations, the U.S. government has made a habit of using the legal system against "supposed threats" to national security--from the Palmer Raids of the early 20th century to the McCarthyite witch-hunts and COINTELPRO spying and dirty tricks of the 1950s,'60s and '70s.

Recent raids have specifically targeted the Arab and Muslim communities, as well as antiwar activists. In late September of 2010, the FBI raided eight homes and offices of antiwar activists in Chicago and Minneapolis. Search warrants indicate the agents were looking for connections between activists and groups in Colombia and the Middle East. The warrants authorized agents to seize items such as electronics, videos, photographs, address books and mail.

Despite a Justice Department probe finding that the FBI improperly monitored activist groups and individuals from 2001 to 2006, these raids continued. Eight people were issued subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago. All have refused to testify.

While those activists haven't faced jail time for their refusal to testify, the jailing of Plante, Duran and Olejnik is a troubling indication of the ongoing erosion of civil liberties.

And of course, this disregard for civil liberties comes courtesy of the Obama administration, the same administration responsible for the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the president to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens without trial.

Thankfully, activists have responded to each and every grand jury hearing with demonstrations across the country--locally in Seattle and Portland, and in cities as far as away as Oakland, Calif., and Minneapolis, Minn. In Seattle, four marathon vigils spanning 24 or 48 hours each were held in solidarity with the targeted activists just outside the federal courthouse.

One participant, Travis C., remarked upon the resilience of the grand jury resisters and the implications for future organizing:

I would say that those three activists are extremely brave individuals who aren't deserving of the treatment they are receiving from the state. Obviously it doesn't seem likely that we'll be able to spring them from prison, but I think the next best thing is that we as a larger community can spread information about this.

If secret grand juries keep crushing social movements--because we forget about this history every time a new generation emerges--the next best thing would be to build a culture...of teaching about these grand juries. Solidarity forever to those three.

As Matthew Kyle Duran said in a statement before beginning his prison sentence in early September, the fight is not over:

When the Haymarket massacre took place all those years ago and the martyrs were hung for their desire for a better life, the state attempted to crush all radicals. Clearly, this did not work then, and it won't work now. If this was their desire, they have failed in every aspect of it, as I have not seen anything other than flagrant disregard for them across the globe.

Further Reading

From the archives