Twin Cities: RNC protesters face “terrorism” charges

In what appears to be the first use of criminal charges under the 2002 Minnesota version of the federal Patriot Act, Ramsey County prosecutors have formally charged eight alleged leaders of the RNC Welcoming Committee with “conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism.” Monica Bicking, Eryn Trimmer, Luce Guillen Givins, Erik Oseland, Nathanael Secor, Robert Czernik, Garrett Fitzgerald, and Max Spector, face up to seven and a half years in prison under the terrorism enhancement charge which allows for a 50% increase in the maximum penalty.

Affidavits released by law enforcement which were filed in support of the search and arrest warrants used in raids over the weekend are based on paid confidential informants who infiltrated the RNCWC. They allege that members of the group sought to kidnap delegates, assault police officers with firebombs and explosives, and sabotage airports in St. Paul. Evidence released to date does not corroborate these allegations. The National Lawyers Guild is concerned that such police informants have incentives to lie and exaggerate threats of violence.

“These charges are an effort to equate publicly stated plans to blockade traffic and disrupt the RNC [with] acts of terrorism. This both trivializes real violence and attempts to place the stated political views of the defendants on trial,” said Bruce Nestor, president of the Minnesota Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. “The charges represent an abuse of the criminal justice system and seek to intimidate any person organizing large-scale public demonstrations potentially involving civil disobedience.”

The criminal complaints filed by the Ramsey County Attorney do not allege that any of the defendants personally have engaged in any act of violence or damage to property. The complaints list all of alleged violations of law by protesters during the RNC and seeks to hold the defendants responsible for acts committed by other individuals. None of the defendants have any prior criminal history involving acts of violence. Although claiming probable cause to believe that gunpowder, acids and incendiary devices would be found, no such items were seized by police. Police sought to claim that the seizure of common household items such as glass bottles, charcoal lighter, nails, a rusty machete, and two hatchets, supported the allegations of the informants.

The last time such charges were brought under Minnesota law was in 1918, when Matt Moilen and others organizing labor unions for the Industrial Workers of the World on the Iron Range were charged with “criminal syndicalism.” The convictions, based on allegations that workers had advocated acts of violence, were upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The National Lawyers Guild condemns the charges filed against the eight defendants and urges the Ramsey County Attorney to drop all charges of conspiracy. (Twin Cities IMC, Sept. 3)

See our last post on the struggle in Twin Cities.

  1. Militarized policing
    When making grandiose purchases of 21st century combat gear for their police forces, often with the assistance of Homeland Security largesse local municipalies fail to consider the cost of training their police forces. It must be a constant practice. Too often, police officers are gearing up for an expectant riot for the first time. They are given the false empowerment of their gear, without the training on how and when to use it. There is not cost benefit analysis of such tactics when evaluated against the law suits which ensue. The Tomkins Sqare Riot of 1988 is a clear example of this where police officers were in a position to act, if necessary, but created a necessity in their own minds. Unfortunately for the police officers, their commanders and their political patrons. People who participate in civil disobedience are far more prepared in their knowledgeof the constitution, as well as being armed with cameras, video recorders and backed strongly by the alternative media, and occasionally the mainstream media.

    Thank you

  2. Twin Cities toll: 800 arrests, 120 felonies
    From the Minnesota Daily, Sept. 8:

    800 arrested, lawsuits coming after RNC protests
    The city of St. Paul’s $10 million insurance policy, procured in April, may not run dry, but the city is looking at potentially hundreds of lawsuits as arrests piled up last week.

    New York City has handed out $600,000 in settlements so far for incidents at the 2004 Republican National Convention, St. Paul City Attorney John Choi said.

    But Choi said the amount of damage and future allegations against the capital city will never reach the $10 million policy limit, even though allegations are flowing in.

    Police arrested more than 800 protesters last week and handed out at least 120 felonies, according to Coldsnap Legal Collective, which is linked to the RNC Welcoming Committee—many of which will result in lawsuits.

    But authorities argue the opposite, saying police actions were justified and that no one was seriously hurt.

    Damage and police response
    Protests started peacefully Monday, but soon turned destructive. Splinter groups from the Coalition to March on the RNC broke shop windows, threw newspaper boxes into the street, assaulted police and media and spread caltrops to impede traffic before authorities broke up the impromptu riot.

    The rest of the week followed suit as protesters used makeshift smoke bombs, flares, feces, urine and caltrops in their protests.

    Police reacted with force: pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets and concussion grenades.

    Authorities deny using rubber bullets, but witnesses and journalists reported them being used.

    Police arrested members of the media along with protesters, including members of Democracy Now and The Minnesota Daily…

    Charges ranged from unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors, to rioting, a felony.

    We’re a little skeptical about the feces and urine claims.