$1.6 Million Bail: The Price of Freedom

by Court Mouse

On January 25, Daniel McGowan, one of 11 activists indicted on federal charges of arson, property destruction, and conspiracy relating to two incidents that occurred in Oregon in 2001,was released into the custody of his sister. He will be required to live with her, wear an electronic monitor, and report weekly to pre-trial supervisor in New York. Despite vehement protests by the prosecutors that McGowan presents "a serious flight risk," Judge Ann Aiken stated that she had received at least 60 letters from people in his support and let him out on $1.6 million bail. Daniel asserts his innocence by pleading "not guilty" to all 16 charges. Daniel has been a committed activist, working on projects such as the demonstrations against the Republican National Convention in NYC in 2004, "Really Really Free Markets" and prisoner support work, most notably for Jeff "Free" Luers, who is currently serving over 22 years for the burning of three SUVs.

Federal agents arrested Daniel on December 7 while he was working at Women''s Law, which offers legal help to victims of domestic abuse. Daniel was indicted alone, but his arrest comes in the context of a nationwide sweep that involved six others arrested in Oregon, Virginia, and Arizona. Since December 7th there have been two additional arrests and several new charges added to the original indictments. Three of the 11 total people indicted still remain at large. The charges against the defendants stem from several unsolved fires that were claimed by the Earth Liberation Front between 1998 and 2001.

The statutes of limitations for some of the charges were set to expire, and the investigators and prosecution have charged the defendants with almost every unsolved Earth Liberation Front action in the Northwest. The timing of the arrests, the piling of charge upon charge on the defendants, and the use of cooperating witnesses despite almost no physical evidence seem to indicate that investigators and the prosecution are willing to charge and arrest people with no connection to any of these crimes.

The prosecution is relying on testimony from a Cooperating Witness (CW) named Jacob Ferguson. Jacob has confessed to taking part in several arsons and has worn a wire for the FBI to record conversations at environmental and animal rights conferences. During his time as a CW, Jacob was a heroin addict with an addiction that was either ignored or facilitated by federal agents. Now, though facing life imprisonment, he is walking free and was seen driving around Eugene in a new SUV. Despite his doubtful credibility, his cooperation has had widespread consequences. At least three people, including Daniel, are facing life imprisonment if convicted. One, Stanislas "Jack" Meyerhoff, immediately agreed to cooperate with the FBI after his arrest, and another, William Rodgers, ended his life by suffocating himself with a plastic bag. In addition to Stanislas, two more of the original six, Kevin Tubbs and Sarah Kendall Tankersly, have agreed to cooperate with federal investigators. Jen Kolar, who has not been arrested, has also been named as a CW.

Before his transfer, Daniel was being held in Lane County Jail in Eugene, Oregon, where his conditions were geared to punish him for his past activism. He was held in a terrorist cellblock in Manhattan before being shuttled around to Oklahoma and California, finally arriving in Oregon after two weeks. He has been held in maximum security, with only one hour out of his cell per day, a limit of 20 pieces of paper in his cell at any given time, and only ten dollars available per week to use in his commissary, none of which could be spent on food. A vegetarian, he has lost over ten pounds since he hasn't had access to enough food and was forbidden from trading food with other detainees. Despite this harsh reality, Daniel has remained strong and positive, mostly because of the amazing support from his community of friends, family, and others.

Daniel's arrest comes as a recent addition to the increased repression on political dissent in the United States. Fault Lines will continue to cover the cases of Daniel and other political prisoners around the U.S.

Download excerpt from original layout in PDF format.