White House Protest Corps

Nigel Parry: RNC 8 back in court for hearings
May 10, 2010, 11:53 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

click through to the original at nigelparry.com


Nigel Parry, RNC ’08 Report, Monday, May 10th, 2010

From left, Rob Czernik, 25; Erik Oseland, 22; Monica Bicking, 24; Eryn Trimmer, 24; Luce Guillen-Givins, 25; Garrett Fitzgerald, 26; Nathanael Secor, 27, and Max Specktor, 20. Credit: Susan Micks.

In the two days before the Republican National Convention began in September 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota, police, county sheriff and FBI agents raided several homes and arrested local activists who had been organizing housing and other logistics for protesters.

Eight members of the group, satirically-titled “The RNC Welcoming Committee”, were charged with a felony: “Conspiracy to Riot in the Second Degree in Furtherance of Terrorism”.

In mid-December 2008, three more felony charges were added, including “Conspiracy to Commit Criminal Damage to Property in Furtherance of Terrorism”. The “RNC 8”—as those arrested came to be known—were now collectively facing over 100 years in jail.

Looking at the publicly-available affidavit, it was clear from an early period that the state had dramatically overstated its case against the RNC 8, who could only credibly be accused of calling for nonviolent direct action—hardly terrorism by any stretch.

The charges were widely seen as excessive even by moderate activists in the Twin Cities community. The fact that a federal judge had considered the accused “terrorists” safe enough to release on bail within a few days of their arrest, did not help the state’s case.

The Ramsey County Attorney’s office, headed by Susan Gaertner had leveled the original charge against the RNC 8. At almost exactly the same time that Gaertner announced the second set of charges against the RNC 8, in December 2008, it also emerged that she was running for Minnesota governor.

What better way to a DFL candidate for governor to attract the attention of potential Republican voters than by taking a hardline against protesters who tried to oppose the Republican National Convention?

In April 2009, four months after announcing the second set of charges, Susan Gaertner announced that the two terrorism enhancement charges would be dropped, leaving the RNC 8 to face two remaining felony conspiracy charges of “Riot in the Second Degree” and “Criminal Damage to Property in the First Degree”.

Gaertner was no doubt encouraged to back off her political witch hunt after enduring a series of embarrassing protests outside various events and fundraisers during her campaign. But the damage had been done. A year later, in April 2010, Gaertner dropped out of her gubernatorial campaign.

On Monday, May 3, the RNC 8 returned to court for several days of evidentiary hearings leading up to the joint trial of the eight that begins on October 25. Motions to be heard include those to suppress evidence from the various raids, for bail reductions, for discovery materials relating to entrapment attempts by undercover police, and for dismissal on the grounds of a lack of probable cause.

Observing the hearings, the Courtwatch group of the Community RNC Arrestee Support Structure (or “CRASS”) summarized the defense argument:

“The main case of the government rests on a satirical video, guilt by association, statements and actions of people who are not the defendants, and discussions by the defendants that did not constitute any kind of a real plan or conspiracy to commit riot or damage to property.”

After listening to initial defense and prosecution arguments, the judge agreed to allow a Florence hearing, a hearing to allow the judge to determine whether or not the charges should be thrown out due to a lack of probable cause.

Witnesses included several law enforcement officers involved in the case, including Tony Samec of the Special Investigations Unit of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department.

A former member of the Secret Service, Samec authored parts of the search warrant applications for the raids, signed the criminal complaint against the RNC 8, and provided support for the undercover informants on which much of the case was based.

Reportedly defensive at times, Samec was roundly challenged on his failure—in the text of his application for search warrants—to clearly identify the obviously satirical nature of the “We’re getting ready” infomercial that the RNC Welcoming Committee released on YouTube before the Convention. Much of the massive security and legal mobilization against activists against the RNC was predicated on this short video being evidence of a genuine threat.

Other witnesses included undercover agents in the RNC Welcoming Committee. Marilyn Hedstrom, a.k.a. “Norma Jean Johnson” was a deputy from the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department who attended meetings and events undercover for approximately one year.

CRASS Courtwatch reported that:

“Overall, her testimony seemed to follow along the lines of that provided by Commander Sommerhause, who testified the previous day. Neither had specific evidence of agreements that support the felony conspiracy charges, only impressions and “bigger picture” interpretations of what the goals of the Welcoming Committee were. We supporters in the audience are all hoping that the judge will see that this is guilt by association and the criminalization of dissent, and drop the charges against our friends and comrades.”

Hearings relating to the RNC 8 trial resume on May 13th.

For more information about the political and legal aftermath of the 2008 RNC, visit the website RNC08REPORT.ORG. To access items tagged with RNC 8, use the short URL http://tinyurl.com/taggedrnc8


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