Organizers of the conference "Revolutionary Environmentalism: A Dialogue Between Activists and Academics," have criticized Fresno State University for acceding to a grand jury subpoena for videotape of their gathering. The February conference, included animal rights groups and others that have employed militant tactics. Fresno State officials said they supplied a videotape of one conference session (which was open to the student body and the media) to the grand jury.
Federal authorities will not say what or whom they are investigating, but one conference participant who has heard about the inquiry calls it intimidation of animal rights militants. Another conference speaker said the grand jury's subpoena, which he had not heard about, is apparently part of a broad federal assault on civil rights and academic freedom. Janette Redd Williams, the California State University general counsel assigned to Fresno State, would not explain the subpoena. She said describing it involved "complicated issues we need time to research." Fresno State Provost J. Michael Ortiz said he did not see the university's compliance with the subpoena as endangering academic freedom. However, he then strangely contradicted himself by admitting if the material were used to curtail such open discussion in the future, that would compromise liberties on campus. "That is a danger," he said.
Professor Steven Best, chairman of the philosophy department at the University of Texas, El Paso, participated as a moderator and animal rights advocate in separate sessions at the conference. "I am shocked but not surprised at all," he said. "This is post-constitutional America. After 9/11 and the Patriot Act, we lost a lot of freedoms in this country, including very much the First Amendment right to free speech." Best said the FBI has harassed animal rights groups and others since Sept. 11, 2001, considering them terrorists. "The Animal Liberation Front doesn't pose a threat to national security," he said. "We are nonviolent, but we are equated with al-Qaida in the discourse of the right and by the ag industry and groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom." Best said Fresno State had no right to consent to surveillance and intimidation of the conference. "We weren't talking about hate or how to blow up anything. This was a discussion of the historical, political and ethical aspects of the animal and Earth liberation movements." Rod Coronado of EarthFirst! had heard of the subpoena. He viewed the university's compliance as showing that academic freedom " doesn't even exist there, obviously. I think the Center for Consumer Freedom (which represents food, restaurant and beverage interests) is in cahoots with the feds. The Center for Consumer Freedom was unable to get hold of the tapes. They probably called the FBI and said they were worth having. The tapes will show that the real eco-terrorism they should be investigating is by the timber companies, not people bombing buildings or other things they suspect. I do think it is shameful for any academic institution to cooperate in a political witch hunt." David Martosko, Center for Consumer Freedom research director, welcomed the Grand Jury action, "I think it's about time," he said. "More power to them if they can bring some sense and some order to the chaos that violent radicals have brought on American businesses and on American college campuses." Controversy about the conference began in late December, after the Center for Consumer Freedom got wind of the event and publicly condemned it as a "one-sided, anti-intellectual exercise completely bereft of opposing viewpoints."
And in fact their does seem to be a pattern emerging concerning attempts to intimidate the movement. Less then two weeks ago Federal agents from the Joint Terrorism Task Force raided a house near Rutgers University that served as the headquarters for an animal rights organization. Investigators executed a search warrant on the home whose occupant is a leader of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, or SHAC. Bill Strazza, an attorney for SHAC, said the house serves as the organization's headquarters and was rented by Kevin Kjonaas, who is considered the main force behind the group. Kjonaas, who was not arrested, served briefly as spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front. Strazza said the raid was part of an ongoing investigation by a federal grand jury that has so far issued subpoenas in California, Texas and Chicago. The FBI has placed SHAC on a list of terrorist organizations, he said. "I think we are unfortunately in a political environment where criminalizing dissent is becoming popular again," he said.
The Joint Terrorism Task Force, comprised of both state and federal agents, later raided a home in Seattle, Wash., as part of the same investigation as the Rutgers area case. The occupants of the Seattle home have been linked to animal rights organizations, though it was unclear whether SHAC is among them.
And about the same time all this was going down, activist David Agranoff was the proud recipient of a subpoena from a federal grand jury in Indianapolis which was presented to him at his place of work in San Diego where he currently resides ordering him to surrender hair, saliva, finger and palm prints to the FBI. "The FBIs attempt to make me surrender my biological information is a blatant attempt to harass and intimidate me," said David Agranoff. "It is clear from the way they approached the delivery of the subpoena that they were trying to disrupt my life. This is a very obvious attempt to blacklist me in San Diego. What disturbs me most is that I have committed no crime. They are targeting me simply because I am an activist. This is a complete invasion of my privacy."
Speaking for many in Bloomington and beyond activist Steve Borden says the grand jurys, " primary purpose is to have a chilling affect on community activism in Bloomington. We want to let them know that we will not be divided or deterred. We will stand together and resist the FBI and continue to organize and take all necessary non-violent actions to protect the earth and its inhabitants." Sources: ENN, Fresno Bee, Crowley Offroad, New Jersey Star Ledger, Buffalo Trace Earth First