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May 1, 2012 0

Five Apparent Anarchists Arrested In Plot To Bomb Cleveland Bridge

Update — June 13, 2013: Joshua Stafford was con­victed of con­spir­ing to use a weapon of mass destruc­tion on June 13. He faces up to life-in-prison. The other four sus­pects have all pleaded guilty and were sen­tenced to between six and ten years in prison. 

Five Ohio men were arrested Mon­day night after allegedly attempt­ing to blow up a Cleveland-area bridge “to send a mes­sage to cor­po­ra­tions and the United States government.”

The five men, Dou­glas Wright, Bran­don Bax­ter, Anthony Hayne, Con­nor Stevens, and Joshua Stafford, had been con­sid­er­ing acts of vio­lence for months, accord­ing to fed­eral agents. Two of the men placed what they believed to be explo­sive devices at the bridge and tried to remotely det­o­nate it. The devices, how­ever, were inert and pro­vided by the FBI as part of a sting operation.

Wright, Bax­ter, and Hayne have been charged with con­spir­acy and attempted use of explo­sives; charges against Stevens and Stafford are pending.

All five men were appar­ently involved in Occupy Cleve­land protests and have been char­ac­ter­ized by law enforce­ment or self-identify as anar­chists. Hayne, Stafford, and Bax­ter list the move­ment as their “employer” on their Face­book pages.

In recorded con­ver­sa­tion with the FBI, Bax­ter dis­cussed the impact of blow­ing up a bridge. “Tak­ing out a bridge in the busi­ness dis­trict would cost the…corporate big wigs a lot of money,” he said. Wright believed that the Occupy Move­ment had been coopted by “cor­po­rate Amer­i­can and law enforce­ment” and that there­fore they needed new recruits from out­side the movement.

The media coor­di­na­tor for Occupy Cleve­land denied any knowl­edge of the planned attack, but acknowl­edged that some mem­bers of the move­ment are acquainted with the suspects.

Baxter’s anti-capitalist views were voiced in inter­view last month dur­ing a protest in Cleve­land against home fore­clo­sures. “…I feel the pow­ers that be, who­ever they might be — on all lev­els of gov­ern­ment and those who hold cor­po­rate power — are not lis­ten­ing because not enough peo­ple are actu­ally tak­ing a stance…”

The five men allegedly con­sid­ered other tar­gets for attack, includ­ing the local Fed­eral Reserve Bank and law enforce­ment Fusion Cen­ter, before set­tling on the bridge. Bax­ter inquired into tar­get­ing the Klan or other neo-Nazi groups in Ohio, but was dis­suaded when he was told they were not in Cleve­land. He claimed to have pre­vi­ously par­tic­i­pated in a protest against the Klan in Oak­land, California.

The planned attack was allegedly timed to coin­cide with May Day, a cel­e­bra­tion of Inter­na­tional Work­ers Day that has been seized upon by anar­chist and anti-capitalist groups around the world. May Day events around the world have often fea­tured prop­erty destruc­tion and arrests.

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April 20, 2012 0

Georgia Passes Tougher Bogus Lien Law

A new mea­sure came into force in Geor­gia this week, when Gov­er­nor Nathan Deal signed into law HB 997, mak­ing it a felony to file bogus liens against pub­lic offi­cials and law enforce­ment offi­cers. The act amends the Geor­gia code to cre­ate a new crime, that of mak­ing false lien state­ments against pub­lic offi­cers or pub­lic employ­ees, and pro­vides a pun­ish­ment of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $10,000.
The bill had orig­i­nally been spon­sored by a group of Repub­li­can state rep­re­sen­ta­tives and received strong bipar­ti­san sup­port in both the Geor­gia House and Sen­ate. The aim of the bill was to help counter the grow­ing prob­lems caused by the sov­er­eign cit­i­zen move­ment, an extreme right-wing anti-government move­ment whose adher­ents believe that cur­rent gov­ern­ments are ille­git­i­mate and have no author­ity over them. Though the move­ment has existed since the 1970s, in the past few years it has expe­ri­enced a sur­pris­ing resur­gence, includ­ing a growth of vio­lent and crim­i­nal activity.

Por­tion of doc­u­ment filed by Robert Eugene Stephens
attempt­ing to copy­right his own name,
a com­mon sov­er­eign cit­i­zen tactic

Though the sov­er­eign cit­i­zen move­ment has a strong asso­ci­a­tion with vio­lence, it has an even stronger asso­ci­a­tion with what has come to be called “paper terrorism”—the use of bogus legal fil­ings or doc­u­ments or the mis­use of actual ones in order to harass, intim­i­date, or retal­i­ate against per­ceived enemies.

For 30 years, bogus liens have been one of the most pop­u­lar paper ter­ror­ism tac­tics, often used to harass police offi­cers, pros­e­cu­tors, offi­cials, and judges with whom sov­er­eign cit­i­zens come into con­tact. To give one recent Geor­gia exam­ple, in Octo­ber 2011 Geor­gia Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion agents arrested sov­er­eign cit­i­zen Robert Eugene Stephens of Min­eral Bluff on 12 crim­i­nal counts related to a series of bogus liens Stephens allegedly filed against a vari­ety of local and state offi­cials, includ­ing a county clerk, a local judge and her sec­re­tary, the county tax com­mis­sioner, and even the Speaker of the Geor­gia House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives (which prob­a­bly didn’t hurt the chance the sub­se­quent law had of passing).

A num­ber of states still don’t have bogus lien laws on their books, while the laws of other states make the crime only a mis­de­meanor and some states with bogus lien laws have been lax in enforc­ing them. The result has been a flood of bogus liens across the entire coun­try in the past sev­eral years.

The Geor­gia law could still be strength­ened fur­ther, as it does not pro­tect pri­vate cit­i­zens and busi­nesses, who also can be the vic­tim of bogus liens filed by sov­er­eign cit­i­zens.

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March 30, 2012 0

Hutaree Militia Verdict Shows Sedition Charges Risky

In a rebuke to fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors, U.S. Dis­trict Judge Vic­to­ria Roberts on March 27 threw out sedi­tious con­spir­acy charges against seven Michi­gan mili­tia mem­bers whom the gov­ern­ment had accused in 2010 of plot­ting to start a war with the U.S. government.

Only weapons charges remained against two defendants–David Stone, Sr., the leader of the so-called Huta­ree Mili­tia, and his son, Joshua Stone—and they pleaded guilty the fol­low­ing day to pos­sess­ing a machine gun. Accord­ing to Roberts, though there was evi­dence to con­clude that “some­thing fishy” was going on, the gov­ern­ment did not present enough evi­dence to prove that defen­dants had “reached a con­crete agree­ment to forcibly oppose the United States government.”

The Huta­ree case illus­trated vividly how prob­lem­atic the very issue of sedition—currently defined in U.S. law as a con­spir­acy to over­throw or destroy the U.S. gov­ern­ment, to oppose by force its author­ity, or to delay by force the exe­cu­tion of U.S. laws—is in the United States. From the very first sedi­tion law, the Sedi­tion Act of 1798, such acts have been highly con­tro­ver­sial. One of the major prob­lems has always been dis­tin­guish­ing between speech and conduct—it is for this very rea­son that cur­rent sedi­tion law spec­i­fies “by force,” though it has not made attempts to imple­ment the law much easier.

In recent decades, another rea­son why sedi­tion tri­als are often prob­lem­atic is that increas­ingly jurors find it dif­fi­cult to believe that defen­dants could have pos­si­bly thought they could suc­cess­fully wage war against the gov­ern­ment. After the Huta­ree trial, one of the jurors told a reporter that “I was shocked by their effort to bring the defen­dants to trial…Do you think a group that small can go up against the mighty U.S. government?”

The mod­ern track record of sedi­tion cases in the United States has been rel­a­tively poor. In 1941, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment indicted 28 union activists and left-wing extrem­ists for vio­la­tions of the Sedi­tion Act and a related act, the Smith act, but the jury acquit­ted all of the defen­dants of the sedi­tion charge. In 1944, 30 right-wing extrem­ists and Nazi sym­pa­thiz­ers were accused of vio­lat­ing the same acts, but their lengthy trial ended in a mis­trial. In one of the few suc­cess­ful sedi­tion cases, a num­ber of rad­i­cal Puerto Rican lib­er­a­tion activists were con­victed of sedi­tious con­spir­acy in the mid-1980s for an exten­sive ter­ror­ist campaign.

How­ever, in 1987, 14 promi­nent white suprema­cists charged with sedi­tious con­spir­acy were acquit­ted in what came to be called the “Fort Smith Sedi­tion Trial.” In 1995, Omar Abdel-Rahman, the so-called “Blind Sheikh,” and nine other Mus­lim extrem­ists were con­victed of sedi­tious con­spir­acy for plans to com­mit a vari­ety of ter­ror­ist acts in the greater New York area, as well as other vio­lent acts actu­ally committed.

The his­tory of sedi­tion cases in the United States sug­gests that other types of con­spir­acy or other crim­i­nal charges might well be a bet­ter pros­e­cu­tion strat­egy when deal­ing with extremist-related plots and conspiracies.

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