Forced to Snitch

Some youthful anarchists bashed the door of the federal appellate courthouse in Seattle on May Day.  There were  protests, demonstrations and smashed bank windows. The government doesn’t like its doors bashed, and likes anarchists even less, causing a substantial investigation into the identities of the bashers, including an  early morning SWAT raid on a house that might have contained “anarchist and anti-government materials.” 

Early on the morning of July 25, residents of a neighborhood in northeast Portland, Ore., were awakened by the sound of a battering ram plowing through the front door of a small house. Inside, the sleepy young occupants stumbled out of bed as FBI agents rushed in with assault rifles.

Leah-Lynn Plante, a thin, tattooed woman who volunteers at a bookstore that specializes in anarchist literature, shivered in her underwear in the backyard as a SWAT team hauled out computers, clothing, books and artwork — looking, the agents said, for evidence of who participated in this year’s May Day demonstrations in Seattle that saw smashed windows at banks and clashes with the police.

Plante was nabbed. Not because she was one of the bashing anarchists, but because the government suspected she knew who the real culprits were.  Naturally, the next step was to make Plante give them up.  She was not so inclined.

Leah-Lynn Plante: Vicious concealer of bashing anarchists, with her puppy (rumored to be libertarian)

Plante was subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury (remember, this was the door to the 9th Circuit), where she was expected to cry a bit, whimper, then spill her guts in the face of the majesty of the United States of America. Anarchists, however, are generally uncooperative.

Last week, Portland resident Leah-Lynn Plante spent the first of what could be more than 500 nights in prison for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury about people she might know who might have been involved with the political vandalism in Seattle on May Day.

Plante has not been charged with a crime. In fact, the court granted her immunity, meaning she could not invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Lawyers for two other grand-jury resisters—Matt Duran and Katherine Olejnik—have argued that the jury’s questions about their acquaintances and housemates violate the First and Fourth Amendments. The court has decided that their silence is not protected by the First, Fourth, or Fifth Amendments.

And indeed, this is the law. We have a constitutional rights against self-incrimination. We have no right not to incriminate others.  To the extent there may be any overlap, the granting of immunity to Plante for any crime for which her testimony may implicate her ends any right to invoke the Constitution.

What apparently comes as a shock is that once a witness is granted immunity, the government has the legal authority to compel the witness to become the unwitting snitch. The rat. The person who gives up the names of her friends, her comrades, her brothers-in-arms in the anarchists’ war.  That’s the law.

As federal marshals prepared to take her away, Judge Jones reminded Plante that “you hold the keys to your freedom” and that she could be released at any time if she chose to “exercise your right to provide testimony.”

It was an odd turn of phrase—the same judge who, that morning, legally blocked her from exercising her right to remain silent was sending her to federal detention for not exercising a “right.”

An odd turn of a phrase indeed. The judge’s admonition, as Plante was taken away for contempt of court for her refusal to do as she was ordered (a perpetual problem for anarchists, perhaps), was directed at her ability to purge her contempt by complying with the order.  She could walk free by “exercising her right” to do as she was told.  A curious way to describe what a person does with a right.  Plante instead chose to have herself measured for a khaki jumpsuit.  Slim women can wear anything.

Minutes before Plante’s hearing, her attorney, Peter Mair sat, brow furrowed, in the courthouse lobby. Mair worked for years as a federal prosecutor—he’s indicted the Speaker of the House of Representatives, has prosecuted mobsters, and is familiar with how grand juries work.

But given the way government attorneys are using grand juries now, he said, “you could indict a ham sandwich. Defense attorneys are not allowed in, other witnesses are not allowed in… They’re going to send this poor girl off to prison for a year and a half. And the great irony is that the one guy who pleaded guilty to the crime served—what? Forty days?”

One of the anarchists protesters was identified and prosecuted at the outset, and received a sentence of about a month.  Like it or not, this was pretty light weight as federal crimes go.  Not that a month or so in jail is fun, or that it’s of no consequence to be saddled with a federal record when you’re young and full of vigor, but it’s the price one pays for anarchy. 

Plante, on the other hand, can be held for up to 18 months for her contumacious conduct.  Bashing a door is one thing; refusing to be a forced snitch is far more serious.  If courts don’t enforce their orders with brutal abandon, then people won’t do as they command.  That would never do.

It’s not that the judge is wrong on the law here. It’s pretty basic stuff. But regardless of whether you approve of her politics, you’ve got to admire the fortitude of a young woman sitting in a federal detention facility rather than be forced to snitch on her friends. Especially when so many macho men are tripping all over each other to rat out their brothers at the first opportunity, desperately trying to exercise their “right to provide testimony.”

3 comments on “Forced to Snitch

  1. Frank

    Just denounce everyone you can name as a witch or heretic, so you can be strangled before being burnt at the stake.

    Some days I find it difficult to differentiate between the federal “justtice” system and the Spanish Inquisition.

  2. Frank

    “We do more damage before 9 am than most people do all day.”

    (Actually that’s on the back of a Phule’s Company novel, but it works for the feds.)

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