By Sylvia Arnold
Back in December 1999, the city of Seattle Washington was host to the World Trade Organization meeting, and a mass protest surprised the city and captured the world’s attention. Memories of that event were sparked earlier this year and have led to an inquest involving community members rounded up for Grand Jury questioning.
On May 1, the annual May Day event in Seattle turned violent when a group of black-clad protesters joined the demonstration, wielding rocks, tire irons and other weapons. After the demonstration, there was evidence of damage to private property and a federal courthouse. That afternoon, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn declared an emergency, and by the end of the day, multiple arrests were made for charges of assault, pedestrian interference, and vandalism.
On July 25, FBI agents and officers of the Joint Terrorism Task Force raided three houses in Portland, Oreg. According to one search warrant, officials were looking for “black clothing,” “diaries/journals,” and “anti-government or anarchist literature.” As a result, Portland citizens, including Leah-Lynn Plante, Dennison Williams, Katherine “Kteeo” Olejnik and Matt Duran, were subpoenaed to testify in front of a federal grand jury about their knowledge of the May Day action.
A grand jury is a panel of citizens who decide whether the evidence presented in a case determines if someone should be charged with a crime. These individuals are not pre-screened for bias, and a judge does not oversee the proceedings. Grand jury sessions are not open to the public, but the information gathered can be used against a witness who later testifies in open (public) court. These proceedings can protect witnesses but may also coerce individuals to testify against their will.
None of the individuals arrested were charged with committing crimes associated with the May Day demonstration. Rather, they were granted immunity from the charges. Once applied, it prevents an individual from invoking his or her 5th Amendment right to remain silent in order to avoid self-incrimination. The citizens continued to refuse to testify and were held in contempt of court and thereby sentenced to federal prison. Matt has been in prison since Sep. 26; Kteeo has been in prison since Sept. 28; and Leah-Lynn, who was jailed on Oct. 10, was released two weeks later.
An article in the Seattle Times on Oct. 20 reported that an accidentally unsealed document revealed the individuals were under surveillance before the May Day riots. That fact, coupled with the warrant’s mention of “anarchist literature,” indicates that the government is targeting and detaining citizens for their political beliefs in the name of counterterrorism.
Like any other ideology, anarchists are heterogeneous in their beliefs and practices. Some do advocate violent overthrow of government, while others bring about change through peaceful means such as community organizing and resistance. A principle of anarchist theory is that authoritarian systems corrupt freedom absolutely, so liberties granted by the government were never real to begin with. While it seems contradictory to criticize the State for violating civil rights it has established, while simultaneously desiring the dissolution of that same State altogether, for many anarchists this criticism is vital to confronting the artificial freedom of an authoritative system.