(Click here for a .pdf version)
For Immediate Release
January 29, 2010
Lauren Regan, Atty & Exec. Dir., CLDC, 541-687-9180
Ben Rosenfeld, Atty & Board Member, CLDC, 415-285-8091
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit Declines to Release 20 Year Old Carrie Feldman, Jailed For More Than Two Months On Contempt of Grand Jury
Civil Liberties Monitors Charge That Federal Prosecutor Is On Personal Crusade Against Anarchist Ideology; Courts Do Not Rein Him In
Davenport, IA: U.S. Attorney Clifford R. Cronk III is using his office’s investigation of an alleged 2004 animal rights-related break-in at the University of Iowa to harass and punish targets whom he claims identify as anarchists, a political ideology dating back to the early 19th Century. To date, neither his superiors in the Department of Justice, nor the federal courts, have done anything to curtail his abuse of power. In behavior reminiscent of the darkest days of the McCarthy witch hunts, Cronk argues in court documents that anarchists are domestic terrorists who should be locked up for posing a threat to civil society based on nothing but the prosecutor’s unfounded political bias.
The Animal Liberation Front reportedly claimed credit for the 2004 break-in at the University of Iowa’s Psychology Department, removing lab rats and mice and vandalizing computers. There were no reported injuries. In November 2009, just days before the five year statute of limitations expired (the date after which the government could no longer bring charges), prosecutors subpoenaed Scott DeMuth, a 22-year old Dakota language student and sociology graduate student at the University of Minnesota, and 20-year old Carrie Feldman, to testify before a grand jury said to be investigating the incident. The government gave no public reason for believing the two had any information. Both appeared before the grand jury but refused on principle to testify, and each publicly denounced the process as a star chamber which utilizes secret evidence and deprives witnesses of their right to counsel and other basic constitutional protections.
Over thirty years ago, Justice William O. Douglas expressed almost the identical sentiment, writing “This great institution of the past has long ceased to be the guardian of the people for which purpose it was created at Runnymede. . .Any experienced prosecutor will admit that he can indict anybody at any time for almost anything before any grand jury.” United States v. Dionisio, 410 U.S. 19, 23 (1973 (Douglas, J., dissenting, quoting Chicago-based district judge William Campbell).
In clear retaliation for refusing to testify, U.S. Attorney Cronk had DeMuth indicted under the new Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act for conspiring to commit the lab break-in, despite the fact that the law was enacted two years after the break-in and cannot apply retroactively; despite the fact that DeMuth was a minor at the time of the alleged break-in; and despite the prosecutor’s apparent total lack of evidence. Upon reviewing the so-called “evidence,” a federal magistrate judge wrote:
The Court viewed portions of a videotape depiction of the damage inflicted at the University of Iowa during this occurrence. At least four individuals could be seen during the taping of the event. Special Agent Reinwart was of the opinion that one of these individuals had a resemblance in terms of physique and stature with Demuth. However, Special Agent Reinwart did not testify that he knew Demuth participated in the occurrence. (See Court’s Order of 11/24/09, p1-2.)
Nevertheless, U.S. Attorney Cronk is going forward with his prosecution of DeMuth. Persecution is a better word for it. After the court ordered DeMuth released from jail pending trial, the U.S. Attorney maneuvered to keep him locked up over the long Thanksgiving holiday, resorting to unethical and unconstitutional political stereotyping and guilt by association. He argued:
[T]he defendant did not deny that he is an anarchist. He did not deny involvement with ALF. . .Defendant’s writings, literature, and conduct suggest that he is an anarchist and associated with the ALF movement. Therefore, he is a domestic terrorist. As such, he poses a serious of risk of danger to those he opposes and to law enforcement as well as a risk of flight to avoid prosecution. (See Government’s Motion for Revocation of Release Order, 11-25-09, pg. 3.)
Meanwhile, on November 17, the court found Carrie Feldman in contempt for refusing to testify before the grand jury, even though she never actually disobeyed the court’s order. Rather, the court presumed that she would refuse to testify based on her prior statements. “This is a plain violation of Supreme Court precedent,” said Lauren Regan, Executive Director of the Eugene Oregon-based Civil Liberties Defense Center. “The witness must be brought before the grand jury and refuse to answer questions put to her in front of them before she can be found in contempt.” In this case, after Feldman asserted a Fifth Amendment privilege not to testify, the court ordered her to accept immunity for her testimony, finding that this negated the privilege. However, the court never sent her back before the grand jury before holding her in contempt.
At the contempt hearing, Feldman’s lawyer put her father on the stand to testify that incarcerating her would be harmful to his ailing mother-in-law whom Feldman looks after. The prosecutor pounced on this opportunity to interrogate her father irrelevantly about whether his daughter is an anarchist, rather than concern himself with the legal issues at hand. (See transcript of hearing, 11-17-09.)
“If the prosecutor had substituted the word ‘capitalist’ or ‘socialist’, or ‘Christian’ or ‘Muslim’ for every utterance of the word ‘anarchist,’ correction by his superiors or the courts would have been swift,” said Attorney Ben Rosenfeld, a member of the Board of the Civil Liberties Defense Center. “Mr. Cronk appears to have forgotten, and no one in charge seems to care, that we are not supposed to condemn entire groups of people based on their beliefs.” Cronk later sought to defend his interrogation of Feldman’s father, writing:
By definition, anarchy is a “state of society without government or law” and an anarchist is “a person who seeks to overturn by violence all constituted forms and institutions of society and government, with no purpose of establishing any other system of order in the place of that destroyed.” (See Government’s Sur Reply Brief, 1-21-10, pg. 10.)
Cronk did not attribute the quotations, which appear to come from dictionary.com, and which differ starkly from those found elsewhere, including at wikipedia.com.
“He could not be more ignorant about what anarchism actually means,” Rosenfeld said. “If he had read anything by actual anarchist thinkers, he would know that anarchism is an intellectual philosophy which holds that governments everywhere are constituted to protect the rich, that they share more repressive similarities than differences, and that we should all work together at the local and grass roots levels to lift up the meek among us. In a sense, it is the best of libertarianism and democratic socialism combined.” Lauren Regan added: “Smearing all anarchists as violent criminals is like blaming all Christians for the murder of abortion doctors. The irony is that by engaging in a political witch hunt, the U.S. Attorney is underscoring the anarchist critique of our current system, as well as people’s distrust of the grand jury process.”
Mr. Cronk’s personal crusade is not without official context. On January 14, 2006, FBI spokesman David Picard told CBS affiliate Channel 13 in Sacramento: “One of our major domestic terrorism programs is the ALF, ELF, and anarchist movement, and it’s a national program for the FBI.” His statement echoes J. Edgar Hoover’s infamous description of the FBI’s ideologically-driven Counterintelligence Program (“COINTELPRO”), designed in Hoover’s words to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” undesirable political targets. Similar to Cronk’s conduct in this case, another federal prosecutor, Wallace Kleindienst, told reporters in December 2005, following animal rights activist Rod Coronado’s conviction for nonviolently disrupting a mountain lion hunt in Arizona: “I know he wasn’t tried here for being a violent anarchist. This trial wasn’t about Rod Coronado being a terrorist, but he is one.”
The government’s careless and anti-constitutional syllogism that animal rights activists equal “anarchists” equal “domestic terrorists” appears to come from the upper echelons of the Department of Justice. On January 20, 2006, in a press release announcing the first arrests in Operation Backfire, the Oregon-centered investigation into a series of politically motivated eco-arsons, FBI Director Robert Mueller vowed of the ALF and ELF: “We are committed to working with our partners to disrupt and dismantle these movements….” Since then, he has repeatedly revealed that the FBI is targeting anarchists generally. For example, addressing the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on September 10, 2007, he equated anarchists with terrorists, saying: “Single issue groups and domestic terrorists, which include white supremacists, anarchists, and eco-terrorists, continue to be a concern.”
“In light of such inflammatory remarks by the FBI’s own Director, it is clear that prosecutors like Mr. Cronk have been given the green light to ignore the Constitution and the law, and would seek to punish Carrie Feldman and Scott DeMuth based on nothing but his labeling of them as anarchists,” said Attorney Lauren Regan. Rosenfeld added, “Our government should not be in the business of trying to ‘dismantle’ political movements, as the FBI Director put it.”
Meanwhile, more than two months after the court found her in contempt, 20-year Carrie Feldman still sits in jail, accused of no crime. She appealed her contempt ruling, but in a 2-1 split decision issued on January 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit declined to release her. The majority gave no reason other than to say that “sealed documents [submitted by] the government … indicate that the statute of limitations has not necessarily expired…” (emphasis added). However, the dissenting Judge – who presumably viewed the same secret evidence submitted by the government – found that the statute of limitations had expired, and therefore that the government cannot hold Feldman under subpoena, since grand juries may not be used to gather evidence for prosecution once a crime has been charged, as it has in this case. The Court did not address the allegations of prosecutorial bias, or whether the lower court erred when it found Feldman in contempt without sending her back into the grand jury room to testify. (See Appellate Order, 1-22-10.)
“Everyone thinks we’re moving toward a greater recognition of civil rights under Obama,” said Attorney Ben Rosenfeld. “Instead we’re going backward – all the way back to the sedition laws, and the political inquisitions of Joseph McCarthy.”
(For more information, see the support website for Carrie Feldman and Scott DeMuth at http://www.davenportgrandjury.wordpress.com, where a number of the documents cited in this press release are posted.)