how the fbi manipulates grand juries to intimidate political dissidents and radicals

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Jerry Koch, 24, has never been convicted of, nor charged with a crime.  Yet he has been in jail for the past five months, and might be for at least thirteen more months, or as long as the present grand jury sits.

The following stories demonstrate the increased state-sanctioned efforts to intimidate and coerce whole communities of dissenters.

Jerry is an anarchist from NYC, and had long been the go-to guy for OWS NY arrestees; Anna Simonton says that from the windows of New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, Koch can see the last place he stood as a free person, continually engaged in helping his comrades in the struggle.

He is a political prisoner of our increasingly fascist government, as are so many other Inconvenient People: ‘inconvenient to the Imperium’, that is: Black Panthers, whistleblowers, environmentalists, and antiwar activists, and any brave souls who want to exercise their first amendment rights in the public sphere.

Koch was called to testify before a grand jury in 2009 about a 2008 incident in which a cyclist left a bomb at a military recruiting center in Time Square; it exploded, but no one was injured.  The prosecutor was after Jerry’s contacts in the radical dissident community, trying to establish ‘ties’ in the way that the FBI operated in the ‘old’ COINTELPRO days.  The associations are not related to crimes so much as to social movement activities, and the emerging trend seems to not go after putative leaders, but those whose activities are more by way of support roles.  Freedom frightens the PTB, and they want citizens to be afraid that they may be next on The Lists for either prosecution, or to be hauled before a grand jury in de facto fishing expeditions.

When asked by his attorneys why Koch had been subpoenaed, they were told that an anonymous witness had placed him in a bar down the street in which it was alleged that a discussion of the bombing events had been held.  Koch refused to answer any questions, citing several of his guaranteed civil rights.  Oddly, he was not held in contempt of court or jailed until he named names...then.   He was 19 at the time.

From Anna Simonton:

“But last April, during a trip to Florida to visit his mother, Koch received word from his lawyer that he had been subpoenaed a second time. The grand jury was investigating the same incident and wanted him to testify under the same nebulous allegation of having been at an unnamed bar on an undisclosed date where someone said something about the explosion outside the Army recruitment station.

In May, Koch appeared before the grand jury and again refused to testify. This time a contempt hearing followed. Two hundred supporters packed the courtroom and adjacent hall to hear the judge’s ruling. Koch was found to be in contempt of court and would be incarcerated until he cooperated or the grand jury concluded: up to 18 months.”

As we’ve learned, it isn’t a stretch to believe that the ‘nebulous allegations’ may have come from NSA communications data funneled to the FBI, and that their illegal nature simply doesn’t lend to prosecutors being straight about their origin.

From Will Potter, author of Green is the New Red:

“Last year, six anarchists in the Pacific Northwest were subpoenaed to a grand jury investigating vandalism during a May Day protest in Seattle.

Matt Duran and Katherine “KteeO” Olejnik are two of the anarchists who refused to cooperate and were imprisoned. They both spent five months in jail. Two months were spent in solitary confinement, treatment that the Seattle Human Rights Commission called inhumane. Eventually US District Judge Richard A. Jones released them, saying that “their resolve appears to increase as their confinement continues.”

Their resolve was only possible, the resisters say, because of the support they received from anarchists and civil rights advocates around the world. “It can’t be said enough how important prisoner support is,” Olejnik says. “It’s what keeps people strong on the inside. It’s what kept me strong. One letter can make all the difference… They are trying to break you.”

Will Potter notes that these coercions are different from the past:

‘“When we’re seeing things like the grand juries in the Northwest, or Jerry’s case in New York, we have to remember that the FBI is giving training presentations to new agents identifying anarchists as ‘criminals in search of an ideology,’” Potter warns. “What we’re seeing is a criminalization of an entire belief system.”

 “It sends a message that everyone [with radical politics] is vulnerable, everyone’s at risk.”

One of the attorneys who represented one of the Northwest grand jury resisters says that rather than being used as checks and balances against prosecutorial over-zealousness at the sole discretion of a prosecutor, grand juries are increasingly used “as grease shoots where the prosecution presents evidence and the grand jury more likely than not will go forward with an indictment.”  As in the quip that ‘it’s an easy feat to get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich’.  She notes that grand juries can abrogate one’s Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure, and agents can show up at your house to seize notes, diaries, your cell phone, your address book without probable cause.  And given that those subpoenaed to testify are automatically given immunity, stating your Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination are seen as bogus to the court, and can lead to contempt of court incarcerations.

‘Witnesses who refuse to testify can face imprisonment for as long as the grand jury is in session—up to 18 months. If it’s a special grand jury it can be extended for another 18 months, and after all of that, the prosecutor still has five years to decide whether or not to charge a resister with criminal contempt, for which regular old punitive measures are permitted. There is no maximum sentence for criminal contempt; a person found guilty of this charge could theoretically face life in prison.’

Given that grand juries are exempt from ‘the right to self-discovery’, if subpoenaed, you may never discover the ‘evidence’ that led to your being subpoenaed, meaning that it’s almost impossible for your attorney to quash the subpoena.  Evil little trick, especially again, if prosecutors fabricate the origins if they were tipped off by illegal surveillance by the DEA, FBI, NSA, or other agencies’ metadata two-and-three-hop snooping.

So Jerry Koch languishes in jail for an indeterminate amount of time.  You can read his statement here; it ends with this:

‘I again assert that I have no knowledge of who is responsible for the 2008 Times Square Military Recruitment Center bombing, and I will once again refuse to testify to the federal grand jury in ethical resistance to participation in a fruitless exercise of fear-mongering and government intimidation. My decision to stay silent in defense of individual agency will most likely result in incarceration for a period up to 18 months. I accept this recompense, understanding that in doing so I will reinforce a tradition of defending individual rights in the face of state repression.

At the Jerry Resists link above, there are suggestions as to how you can offer him solidarity, whether by sending mail or contributing to his financial needs.

Spread the word about this oppressive coercion; it could be any of us next.  We need to exert our power against our oppressors, and letting others know what’s afoot is one major key.  Bring all the light you can to bear on such tactics for all our sakes, and the sakes of those who will come after us.

13 responses to “how the fbi manipulates grand juries to intimidate political dissidents and radicals

  1. Thanks, wendye. The more light that is shed on these tactics, the less effective they will be. Prisons are already full to overflowing, not only of those who become the targets as they seek to address an unjust system, but of ordinary folk who can no longer keep head above water attempting to function in that same system. It’s a situation which is no longer, if it ever was, sustainable.

    These tactics cannot stem the tide. They are desperate lastditch measures which won’t suppress righteous indignation. The peaceful advocates of change have our blessings and our support, as much as we can give them in this critical time.

    Thank you again for, as you always do, shining the light.

  2. Off your specific topic, but a bright spot we can hope, Chris L’s blog about organized labor reaching their limits with austerity. Any bright light helps my peaceful resolve. Check the video from CNBC:

    http://cognidissidence.blogspot.com/2013/10/labors-growing-resolve.html

    Thanks for this story and links, wendydavis.

  3. Another good piece, Wendy, thank you. The grand jury has long been a tool for abuse by corrupt govt officials, nothing new there, but it does all seem to weigh heavier and heavier, doesn’t it? How many tools do they have, how many do they need? How did We the People ever let ourselves get so firmly on the wrong side of the power equation?

  4. For all US catfoodiators; 8 lives left. But not light yet:

  5. welcome, juliania. overflowing: yes, and some states are closing schools that didn’t measure up to obomba/arne’s ‘race to the bottom’, and are building prisons, instead. kinda a new twist on ‘cradle to prison pipelines’. yet we’ll end up paying for the private charter schools, too. stupefyingly cavalier in terms of acting directly against ‘the good of the people’, isn’t it?

    these court-jailed folks are put in jails, not prisons, perhaps a distinction without much difference, especially when you can be put in a solitary ‘for your own protection’ as were oljenik and duran. but yes, some folks are more frightened, some are just of firmer resolve not to knuckle to the security state machine. and the further word gets out, the better.

    i did submit the piece to dissidentvoice.org, and the editor emailed me back within hours with the link; they’d posted it. i know a lot of folks read there, but this stuff needs to make it into the mainstream media.

    will the new venture with omidayar, greenwald and poitras have teevee? print?
    is the guy the real deal? i’ve collected a whole lot of links tryin’ hard to say that he is. billionaires v. billionaires in the news markets. hmmmm. well, we can only hope for the best, but retain a tad of skepticism, i reckon.

  6. to nonquixote: mr. silver waxed funny with ‘a nation of rich people’, but man, i wish he’d said that medicare administration is about a fourth that of private insurance. and sheeesh, day late, a dollar short, given that the afl-cio pretended not to notice until their recent national convention exactly how fucked up obombaCrapCare is for their members. that convention had some other cool stories, but it seems kinda late now to write them up…

    given the slavish devotions of unions to dems, do you think that i) members will vote against dems, and ii) would they not vote in a race, vote green, or for a republican? i’m so out of touch with electoral politics, but it’s hard for me to imagine by now that big labor will just fall in line again, and my that i mean: the old line. will the threat mean anything to passing a grand bargain, esp. since dems have made so many ‘ necessary concessions’ already, and the cuts are in place.

    man, that cnbc woman was a piece of propaganda work, eh? do she and her ilk just live in that wall street bubble, and never question those mantras?

  7. hallo, rc. i reckon you know better than i, but potter and kaplan (?) say that this is another notch past…the past, in that going after small fry who may be thought to be less committed (or something) than leadership (as if there is such a thing in these outrage movements) may yield more names, locations, etc., and be even more chilling, given that, like duran and oljenik, who were just everyday social, not so much political activists could be treated in such ugly ways.

    we decided we’ll afford two tenners to send to jerry koch, just so that he knows ‘he’s not alone’.

    which leads me to senor zorro:

    nice music. i’ll give back this. you may laugh, but for me, this iteration of Doctor Who has brought some of the finest television made, specifically because Love is the feature ingredient and strategy to defeat the bad actors. love, of course as healing, also. he healed the tyrannical michael gambon character in a dickensian christmas special.

    ‘not alone’ being the segue. :) katherine jenkins (and she did sing it; i checked):

  8. More like the Scarlet Pimpernel for this evening – Smashingly enchanting and Jolly GOOD! With more apropos magical relief:

    TOMORROW, Back to earth.

  9. ‘allo, pimpin-fer-crystal. froggie frog magic, lol? ohhhhh, kermie!

  10. Not how, Who. TARDIS, if we can believe.

  11. time and relative dimension in space. folding space (dune). theoretical physics is catching up; now if only i could grok it via psychic osmosis….

    we shall endeavour (morse) to believe. (fox mulder) more magic… one of my friend’s favorites ever…

    night, all. sweet dreams.

  12. OK, back to our badder selves this A.M., perhaps with a little French rewind. There, even students recall HOW: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/10/17-8
    Here (in DEMinution of the “neo-liberal” NuDeal); mebbe, “Equaliberal, Equaliberty, Equalibrium” !

  13. good on those students! nice story for this mornin’. (i have more fun stuff re: france, hope to get it up when i can. have a rare bodywork client this mornin’.)

    love your tweak of the french motto, lol. ah, those sveeeedish eyes… did bogie wear high heels or stand on boxes?

    thank you, monsieur pimpernel; might use the ‘you see him here…’ in the post. today it all strikes me as too absurd not to be funny.

    oh, and there’s some wine on the lace of your left cuff, by the way…

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