Update from third day of RNC 8 hearings

Today was a continuation of the Florence hearing to establish whether there was probable cause for the charges against the RNC 8. The entirety of the day was spent obtaining testimony from Marilyn Hedstrom, a.k.a. “Norma Jean Johnson”–a deputy from the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department who attended RNC Welcoming Committee meetings and events undercover for approximately one year. Most information referenced came from reports that she had written immediately following each meeting and interaction with members of the Welcoming Committee. She only recalled wearing a wire on one occasion, when there was a specific meeting where she believed they would be talking about incriminating evidence.

Hedstrom testified that the first meeting she attended of the RNC Welcoming Committee was on August 31, 2007–the pReNC at the Jack Pine Community Center. Throughout her time undercover, she attended over 100 meetings and participated in the “Basics” committee, which worked on things such as food and housing, and the “Networking” committee. She had tried to gain acceptance in the group by volunteering to facilitate meetings and participating in banner drops, dumpster diving, and cooking for events. She also participated in a WC tour stop in Iowa City. She was very hesitant to answer questions without referring to her reports, which she had not reviewed prior to the hearing, and often stated that she “did not recall” answers.

A lot of attention was focused on the “Action Faction,” a subgroup of the RNC Welcoming Committee that was disbanded several months prior to the convention. She said that the members of the Action Faction were: Garrett Fitzgerald, Monica Bicking, Eryn Trimmer, Robert Czernik, and Andrew Darst (a.k.a. Panda–the FBI informant involved in the WC). She said that the role of the Action Faction was to divide the city into red, yellow, and green zones based on action type and risk level, and provide “points of interest” to protesters. She said that she did not know whether the zones tactic was abandoned at the pReNC 5.3 discussions [it was], because she was not present. She testified that they did produce maps with points of interest (including hotels, delegate attractions, and government and capitalist institutions), and a map dividing the city into sectors. She said that these were intended to be used as targets for people coming in from out of town.

In general, she could not recall specific agreements made by any of the defendants to commit property damage or riot with a dangerous weapon. She said that she believed that the general goal of the Welcoming Committee was to bring groups and people from all over the country to shut down the convention using any tactics and by any means. She testified that the Welcoming Committee’s role in this was to provide food, housing, and maps. She believed that the subtext of the blockading goal put forth from the pReNC 5.3 was that they would support people engaged in violence and rioting, and that supporting these people with food and housing constitutes a conspiracy. During cross examination, she talked about an article written by members of the Welcoming Committee called “Why Blockade the RNC?” She read an excerpt from this article, which said that successful execution of the blockading strategy would open up space that is more conducive to more mobile or offensive tactics than it would be otherwise. She also discussed a post online from a member of Unconventional Action NC talking about people “wanting to get their riot on.”

When asked if she had observed any of the defendants in possession of a dangerous weapon, she said that some of them had pocket knives, she had seen many of them around knives in the kitchen while cooking, and that Nathanael Secor had a large number of bricks in his backyard. She later testified that Secor had repeatedly discussed building a brick oven, and there was no specific indication that the bricks were intended to be used as weapons.

She also testified that members of the Welcoming Committee had sought legal advice regarding the possibility of conspiracy charges. She indicated this as evidence that they were trying to “cover their tracks.”

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.

We are looking forward to the break from hearings, which will resume again on the 13th and 14th of May. At that time, the defense will call Chris Dugger, another RSCD infiltrator, and may call Jay Maher, a RCSD investigator. The attorneys are still scheduling a make-up date for Thursday’s canceled hearing. For more detailed notes (to be posted soon), see: http://RNC8.org/info/courtnotes.

With love,
The RNC 8 Defense Committee and friends

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