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)
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