My son Max was arraigned at the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center on Wednesday, Sept. 3. He’s in serious legal trouble.
In the aftermath of the Republican National Convention — and the arrests of more than 800 protesters, journalists and bystanders in the Twin Cities — Max and seven others, the alleged ringleaders of the RNC Welcoming Committee, have been charged with conspiracy to commit riot in the furtherance of terrorism.
That’s right, terrorism.
When the AJW went to press [the first week of September], Max was being held in the Ramsey County jail. He was kept in solitary confinement for more than two days, with no reading material, nothing. At the arraignment, the prosecutor asked for $75,000 bail; but Larry Leventhal, Max’s attorney, successfully argued that the amount was excessive and the judge reduced it to $10,000.
At around 8 p.m. on that Wednesday, Max was released from jail. Sheriff’s deputies were instructed to drive Max, along with a young woman from Cleveland, some distance away from the jail. They were dropped off at a Holiday gas station on University Avenue near Vandalia.
(After arranging for Max’s bail bond, I attended the taping of “The Daily Show.” Jon Stewart’s hilarious political satire relieved some of the stress in what was one of the craziest, most surreal weeks in my life. Earlier in the day, I attended a luncheon for visiting Israeli diplomats, including Ambassador Sallai Meridor, at the home of Ruth Usem. There was a crowd of Jewish machers, local and national, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison. Of course, I bent the ears of several luncheon attendees with the tale of my incarcerated son.)
On Thursday, I was in contact with Larry Leventhal, and a press conference was called for 3 p.m. at his office. Local TV and newspaper reporters and photographers, reporters from local blogs and alternative press outlets, and a producer from Al Jazeera (which covered the RNC) crowded into the cozy conference room.
Bruce Nestor, attorney for Max’s codefendant Monica Bicking and president of the Minnesota branch of the National Lawyers Guild, acted as the press conference emcee. Max and three of his codefendants — Luce Guillen-Givens, Nathanael Secor and Rob Czernik — were present, along with three lawyers, Nestor, Leventhal and Jordan Kushner. The lawyers did not allow their clients to speak, in light of the serious charges they faced and the possibility that they might say something that would be taken out of context and used against them in court.
I spoke at the press conference, as did Klea Fitzgerald, mother of Garrett Fitzgerald, one of the eight defendants; Max’s other co-defendants, Erik Oseland, Eryn Trimmer, Bicking and Fitzgerald, were not in attendance.
The complaint in the case of the RNCWC 8 (shades of the Chicago 8, from another political convention brouhaha) contains lurid allegations about kidnapping Republican delegates, throwing Molotov cocktails, attacking law enforcement officers and burning tires on the freeway. The allegations are based on statements made by police plants in the group — CRIs, “confidential reliable informants.”
“The charges in this case are supported only by allegations of paid confidential informants,” Nestor told the reporters. “A number of the attorneys here have experience in investigations with the use of informants in political cases. We are concerned about the potential use of provocateurs, people who purposely plan and bring up discussions of violence, in order to get other people to respond and then report back that those discussions occurred. The confidential informants are paid based on the value of the information they provide. They have a clear incentive to exaggerate and lie about the information.”
Nestor added that the allegations of kidnapping and violence, the “most outrageous allegations” made by the authorities — and the basis for the Aug. 30 SWAT team raids on three south Minneapolis homes — “are not supported by any evidence other than the statements of the confidential informants, they’re not supported by the evidence seized.”
Which brings us to the pails of urine. Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher proudly displayed 5-gallon pails of “urine” at a press conference following the raids. The anarchists ostensibly were fashioning IUDs (improvised urine devices) to use against cops and Republicans, according to the police authorities. The search warrants for the Aug. 30 SWAT team raids specified “urine and feces.”
However, Nestor said that the “urine” seized was mostly “kitchen gray water” and had nothing to do with any of the defendants. Nestor also noted that “common household items” — glass bottles, rags and charcoal starter fluid, found in different locations in various houses — have repeatedly been referred to in news reports as bomb-making materials.
Warrant items not found
“We have search warrants seeking gun powder, explosive materials, Molotov cocktails, none of which were found,” Nestor said. “We have the sheriff displaying a single plastic item, which he claims is a shield; as if, somehow, one shield was going to protect demonstrators from 3,500 armed riot police who have projectile tear gas weapons.”
Nestor concluded that the authorities have recklessly wielded the “terrorism charge” so that any political activist involved in planning civil disobedience could be labeled as a “domestic terrorist.”
Attorney Larry Leventhal told the reporters that the complaint does not allege that any of the defendants physically attacked anybody or even “broke a window.”
The complaints against the eight defendants, according to Leventhal, weave “a narrative of various meetings that they claim occurred over a number of years. … We have, basically, [the authorities] saying, Here are some people, they’ve associated with other bad people, and those people have done bad things. If we were to accept the standard that people who associate with others who may do bad things are subject to arrest — and that certainly should not be a standard in a civilized society — but if that were the standard, there’s a lot of delegates who are in the Xcel Center that have been associating with bad people who have done very bad things.”
Leventhal termed the case a “political prosecution,” which is characterized by people being targeted and arrested for “their thoughts, for their ideas — which may be different from the reigning political powers’ — rather than for things they have done.”
Then Leventhal introduced me to the press, noting that I was editor and publisher of the American Jewish World newspaper, and was in St. Paul covering the Republican National Convention.
I talked about Max and mentioned his educational background, including his being a confirmand of the Temple of Aaron Synagogue religious school and a graduate of the Talmud Torah of St. Paul Midrasha program. I’ll add here that Max earned his Golden Kipa at the Temple of Aaron, an honor bestowed to post-B’nai Mitzva kids who do 10 Torah readings. At age 19, Max is beginning his junior year at the University of Minnesota (he took a lot of college-level courses during his final two years at Minneapolis South High).
Appeal to journalists
“As you heard from the lawyers, the criminal complaint here is farfetched, overblown, outrageous,” I said. “I’m in the newspaper business, so I encourage all of the journalists here to look into the specifics of this complaint and see where the truth really lies.”
Finally, I put my arm around Max’s shoulders and said, “This is your domestic terrorist — take a good look. I don’t believe it at all. Give me a break.”
After the 50-minute press conference, there was a meeting of defendants and lawyers, and one parent. Then I took off on foot for West Seventh Street and the heavily fortified Xcel Energy Center for the final night of the RNC, during which Sen. John McCain would accept his party’s nomination for president.
The case against Max and his co-defendants is in a preliminary stage, so it’s difficult to see how things will develop. The lawyers are waiting for the government to produce evidence backing up the many allegations in the criminal complaints.
As you might imagine, as a journalist I’ve been scouring the Web for press accounts of this case. Chris Hedges, a veteran journalist (Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, etc.) and author, posted an incisive article about the scene in St. Paul last week on Truthdig.com.
“The rise of the corporate state means the rise of the surveillance state,” Hedges wrote. “The Janus-like face of America swings from packaged and canned spectacles, from nationalist slogans, from seas of flags and Christian crosses, from professions of faith and patriotism, to widespread surveillance, illegal mass detentions, informants, provocateurs and crude acts of repression and violence. We barrel toward a world filled with stupendous lies and blood.”
Minnesota version of Patriot Act
The prosecution of Max and the others, as Hedges noted, is the “first time criminal charges have been filed under the 2002 Minnesota version of the federal Patriot Act. The Patriot Act, which was put in place as much to silence domestic opposition as to ferret out real terrorists, has largely lain dormant. It has authorized the government to monitor our phone conversations, e-mails, meetings and political opinions. It has authorized the government to shut down anti-war groups and lock up innocents as terrorists. It has abolished habeas corpus. But until now we have not grasped its full implications for our open society. We catch glimpses, as in St. Paul or in our offshore penal colonies where we torture detainees, of its awful destructive power.”
Also, Glenn Greenwald, a former constitutional law and civil rights litigator, writing on Salon.com, has done a great job covering RNC-related acts of repression.
The daily newspapers in the Twin Cities have not distinguished themselves covering this particular aspect of the RNC story. At least, their sins of omission are less egregiously awful than the swill (“Having a Riot in St. Paul: Cops put the hurt on ‘anarchist’ protesters”) written for Newsweek magazine’s Web site by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball.
This duo functions like the record-and-playback device on a tape recorder, regurgitating statements by various police agents “battling a shadowy neo-anarchist group that was allegedly plotting to disrupt the convention by kidnapping delegates, hurling Molotov cocktails and committing other acts of ‘guerrilla warfare.’ ” In fact, these “shadowy” anarchists put all of their statements up on a Web site (nornc.org) for the world to see. And, as it is now clear, they also opened their meetings and their hearts to an undercover cop and at least two police informants who apparently played them for financial gain.
I’m not an objective journalist in this matter. I’m expressing my views and feelings about recent events. I’m a father whose son is in a great deal of trouble. Max doesn’t want me singling him out for attention; to his credit, he wants equal recognition for his co-defendants. He sees that they’re all in this together. I think we’re all in this together.
After the SWAT team raids, the police barricades, the riot squads, the tear gas and pepper spray, and the mass arrests of demonstrators, the Republicans gave their hechsher to the McCain-Palin ticket and left town. Our civil liberties — especially free speech and freedom of the press — took a beating here last week. The events in the Twin Cities last week provide a grim portent of things to come in America. We have to take a long careful look at what happened, and figure out how to reweave our civil society.
Mordecai Specktor is editor of the American Jewish World, in which this article first appeared.
Note: Joel Kramer, MinnPost editor and CEO, is board chair and an investor in Minnesota Jewish Media LLC, which owns the American Jewish World newspaper.
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