Sounding Circle: Free Speech by Radical Environmentalist, Rod Coronado, Declared Illegal

 Free Speech by Radical Environmentalist, Rod Coronado, Declared Illegal0 comments
17 Mar 2006 @ 08:56, by Raymond Powers

The New Green Scare: Free Speech by Radical Environmentalist, Rod Coronado, Declared Illegal


March 10, 2006

War on the First Amendment

The Great Green Scare and the Fed's "Case" Against Rod Coronado


The federal government has been champing at the bit to put Rod Coronado back
in prison since the moment he got out in 1999, refusing to repent for his
role in a 1992 arson at a Michigan State University fur research lab.
Federal officials have publicly branded Coronado a leader of the Animal
Liberation Front, even though the ALF is apparently non-hierarchical. He is,
however, an unabashed advocate of property destruction in defense of
animals, and his indictment in San Diego in February, for giving a speech in
which he explained how the incendiary devices used in the Michigan arson
were made, is a flimsy pretext to punish him for his radical views.

The government's vendetta against Coronado is a campaign in a broader witch
hunt against radical environmentalists and self-identified "green
anarchists" -- those who merge ecology, animal rights, and anarchism in a
vision of freedom and sustainability for all living beings. After Coronado's
arrest, the U.S. Attorney for San Diego, Carol Lam, stated in the
government's official press release, pre-judging the case for the public:
"Teaching people how to build explosives in order to commit violent crimes
is unacceptable in civilized society. There is no excuse for it." And so,
through sophistry and syllogism, the government has transformed speech into

On December 13, 2005, Coronado was convicted in Arizona for peacefully
attempting to disrupt a mountain lion hunt, which the U.S. Forest Service
organized after a hiker reported seeing a lion in a popular canyon -- even
though Arizona's Fish and Game Department searched and didn't find any
tracks. The public came out strongly against the hunt, prompting authorities
in the end to trap and relocate two lions without killing them. After
Coronado's conviction, Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst told
reporters that Coronado is "a danger to the community. I know he wasn't
tried here for being a violent anarchist. This trial wasn't about Rod
Coronado being a terrorist, but he is one." The AUSA thus revealed the
government's two ulterior motives for going after Coronado: One, it has a
vendetta against him personally, and two, it has quietly embarked on yet
another war against an abstract concept -- anarchism.

The new case against Coronado is as stark a case about free speech as this
country has ever seen. Measured against any historic test of free speech,
Coronado's behavior -- i.e., his speech -- was alarmingly protected and
uncriminal. [1] On July 30, 2003, persons unknown torched an apartment
complex under construction in San Diego, causing millions of dollars in
damage. The day afterward, Coronado flew to San Diego to lecture at a
previously scheduled event. In response to a question from an audience
member, Coronado -- who has been a public figure on the environmental
lecture circuit since his release from prison in 1999 -- demonstrated how
someone had constructed a non-explosive, incendiary device out of a plastic
jug filled with gasoline to commit the Michigan arson for which he did his
time. The government does not suspect, and has not accused, Coronado of any
involvement in the fire set the day before his speech.


The Supreme Court has carved out three famous exceptions to free speech: the
"fighting words" exception (Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire), the obscenity
exception (Miller v. California), and the "clear and present danger"
exception (Brandenburg v. Ohio). [2] However, each exception is extremely
limited. As Justice WilliamBrandeis eloquently wrote in 1927: "Fear of
serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech. It is the
function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears[N]o
danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the
incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before
there is opportunity for full discussion[T]he remedy [then] to be applied is
more speech, not enforced silence."

But playing gotcha, the government has charged Coronado under an obscure,
anti-First Amendment law which makes it "unlawful for any person to teach or
demonstrate the making or use of an explosive, a destructive device, or a
weapon of mass destruction with the intent that [it] be used for, or in
furtherance of, an activity that constitutes a Federal crime of violence."
[3] The law has yet to be challenged on constitutional grounds.

The DOJ reportedly has used this law only four times, but has used it twice
now against dissidents. [4] In 2003, Sherman Austin, the then 20 year old
founder of the anarchist website, pleaded guilty under
the law in order to avoid a possible 20 year sentence for merely hosting and
linking to another website on his server, which provided crude, Anarchist
Cookbook-style information on bomb-making.

The same information is widely available elsewhere. Austin otherwise had
nothing to do with the site he linked to. But according to the government's
theory of the case, Austin's anarchist beliefs and the political content of
his website furnished the requisite intent. Thus, the government substituted
other speech for intent, thereby nullifying the only part of the statute
which required something more than mere speech. (Query whether it would also
be illegal to show snapshots of the websites in question on a site devoted
to stimulating discussion about threats to free speech?) Austin served one
year in prison. [5] So much for the First Amendment.

The arrest of Coronado occurs in the midst of a new Green Scare, in which
the FBI would have us believe that eco-saboteurs who engage in property
crimes such as arson and vandalism, but studiously avoid causing injury to
people, constitute "the number one domestic terrorism threat," as FBI Deputy
Assistant Director for Counterterrorism John Lewis told a Senate panel on
May 18, 2005. Apparently, according to the FBI, the threat is greater than
that posed by neo-Nazis, systemically brutal and racist police forces, or

Since then, the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces (multi-agency units
operating out of every FBI field office) have mercilessly harassed numerous
environmental and animal rights activists by conducting paramilitary-style
raids on their homes; seizing computers, papers, photos and other personal
effects; subpoenaing scores of people to grand jury inquisitions; engaging
in electronic surveillance; dispatching informants to demonstrations; and
even planting informants in people's homes.

In December 2005, the DOJ unsealed a 65-count indictment in Oregon against
11 alleged eco-saboteurs accused in a series of arsons committed under the
banner of the Earth Liberation Front. Even though the ELF disavows violence
and no one was hurt, the government has branded them terrorists, thereby
cheapening a term which, by its very mention, alters policies and budgets.
The DOJ is seeking, in some cases, life terms for the young activists, where
the same crimes, if committed to defraud insurance, would land them a few
years in prison.

The Green Scare picks up where the Red Scare left off -- with the FBI
bruised and reprimanded by Congress for engaging in illegal, KGB-style
break-ins, wire-taps, frame-ups, and even assassinations of members of
targeted political groups. Now, Congress is the enabler of such FBI dirty
tricks -- not so much legalizing them as laundering them through the passage
of flagrantly unconstitutional laws like the USA-PATRIOT Act, reauthorized
by Democrats and Republicans alike, and the incipient, retroactive
legalization of the NSA illegal domestic spying program.

Both the Red Scare and the Green Scare fuel and are fueled by a hysterical
hatred for a broad political philosophy -- Communism, and now Anarchism --
caricatured as a tangible threat casting a shadow across the land. Thus,
anarchists -- a diverse group of people across all walks of life who
generally agree that most government structures are repressive, that we
shouldn't be greedy, and that we should help one another, but who are
probably more likely to disagree on the specifics of history, social
organization, or political strategy than any two people who identify as
Christian, Muslim, Republican, or Democrat -- are reductively drawn as
bomb-throwing lunatics. MIT Professor Noam Chomsky, who has lobbed many
books at the public, is an anarchist. Probably, this is small consolation to
the current Administration, but that is all they should have to say about
it. George Orwell was one too.

In January 2006, with the arrest of three suspected eco-saboteurs in Auburn,
California (Sacramento County), the FBI revealed that it is investigating
the "anarchist movement", writ large. Special Agent Nasson Walker disclosed
in an affidavit that the FBI had embedded a paid informant with the
suspects, recruited when she was only 18 or 19. The FBI had dressed her up
as a medic and dispatched her to participate in numerous peaceful,
large-scale protests against, e.g., free trade and its concomitant race to
the bottom in wages, human rights, and environmental standards. Needless to
say, most if not all of the people she interacted with (politically
organized with, treated medically, and lived with) were not plotting crimes
of violence or sabotage. Yet the FBI can claim -- with a whiff of
legitimacy, even -- that it has the right to engage in such intimate
espionage and dragnet-style policing because ex-General John Ashcroft
relaxed the Attorney General Guidelines to permit widespread snooping.
Originally created to protect the public from FBI-KGB tactics after the
exposure of its COINTELPRO operations in the 70s, , the A.G. Guidelines now
permit the FBI "to go anywhere the public can go" in Ashcroft's words,
without any foundation of suspicion that a crime is afoot. [6] Undoubtedly,
the FBI did not blow "Anna" the informant's cover without leaving other
agents in the field and in political meetings, in decision-making positions
in groups, and in people's homes.

Agent Walker's affidavit is further revealing of the FBI's backslide into
politically motivated investigations. It references "anarchist" or
"anarchism" 26 times in its mere 14 pages. In it, the FBI seems obsessed
with the anarchist "lifestyle", anarchist literature, and anarchist
gatherings. These invocations of dread anarchism add nothing more to the
scales of probable cause than if all the terms were replaced by the word
"Christian", and no one can gainsay that Christians have committed more
atrocities in history than anarchists. It is elemental that a person is not
guilty by association to an unpopular (or popular) cause in this country.
But as a PR move -- in seeking more constitutionally suspect laws, higher
bails, more warrants, longer sentences, and a bigger chilling effect on
progressive activists -- the government's projection of a giant anarchist
menace is highly effective.

On January 13, 2006, the FBI's David Picard flatly admitted to CBS affiliate
Channel 13 in Sacramento that the FBI is again investigating an entire
ideology as if it constitutes a domestic security threat.[7] He said, "one
of our major domestic terrorism programs is the ALF, ELF, and anarchist
movement, and it's a national program for the FBI."

Against this backdrop, it is clear that the Arizona Assistant U.S. Attorney
who labeled Rod Coronado a "violent anarchist" after prosecuting him for
trying to save otherwise condemned mountain lions was not just spouting
personal invective. He was reading from the official talking points memo.

Standing up for people's rights of free expression, whether one agrees or
disagrees with the message, is fundamental to a free society. As Noam
Chomsky put it in Manufacturing Consent: "If you believe in free speech then
you defend speech that offends you, because to only defend speech that you
agree with is a function of the commissars Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany."
Or as the ACLU says on its website: "The best way to counter obnoxious
speech is with more speech. Persuasion, not coercion, is the solution."

Some questions which arise in Coronado's case include whether he intended
that his demonstration would be used to further an act of violence, and
whether his intent, whatever it was, meets the clear and present danger test
articulated by the Supreme Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio. The audience he was
speaking to probably was not comprised of glazed-over Manchurian candidates,
determined to and capable of going out and making violent revolution -- if
ever such a group existed. The law has long treated people, who are
autonomous moral agents, as breaks in the chain of causality and guilt.
Otherwise, Pat Robertson might be doing consecutive life sentences for his
many intemperate remarks. Moreover, the steps involved in making an
incendiary device from readily available materials such as a plastic jug and
gasoline hardly constitute an opaque science. The term "destructive device"
might turn out to be too vague to satisfy constitutional due process
standards, if it includes items so simple to construct.

One thing we know for sure is what the government has already told us: "This
trial [isn't] about Rod Coronado being a terrorist." The other thing we know
for sure is that while real environmental terrorism goes unabated, forests
recede, species go extinct, ice caps melt, and the sea level continues to

Ben Rosenfeld is a Civil Rights attorney in San Francisco. He can be reached


[1] In legal parlance, "speech" includes expressive conduct, broadly.

[2] For example, relic that it is, the 1940 "Smith Act", which prohibits
advocating the overthrow of a government of the United States, is still on
the books. (See Smith Act, 18 U.S.C.A. § 2385.)

[3] See Dept. of Justice press release The statute, 18 USC § 842(p)(2)(A),
states in its entirety: "It shall be unlawful for any person to teach or
demonstrate the making or use of an explosive, a destructive device, or a
weapon of mass destruction, or to distribute by any means information
pertaining to, in whole or in part, the manufacture or use of an explosive,
destructive device, or weapon of mass destruction, with the intent that the
teaching, demonstration, or information be used for, or in furtherance of,
an activity that constitutes a Federal crime of violence"

[4] See article in San Diego Union-Tribune, reporting that law has only been
used four times.

5] The 16 year old white kid who designed the website Austin linked to was
never even arrested. For more information, see

[6] See CNN article quoting Ashcroft at May 30, 2002 press conference.

[7] See second television news broadcast

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