Buffalo, NY: Leslie James Pickering facing increasing harassment by FBI

From the Buffalo News:

When Leslie James Pickering lived on the West Coast more than a decade ago, he was a spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front, a radical group that destroyed facilities believed to be involved in animal cruelty or environmental degradation.

That included using arson and firebombs to destroy a wild-horse slaughterhouse in Oregon, a ski resort that threatened a lynx habitat in Colorado and a University of Washington horticultural center project that the group believed – incorrectly – was involved in genetic engineering.

But life for Pickering – who says he never was a member of the secretive group, just its spokesman – became too stressful, so he returned to his home in Western New York and eventually opened Burning Books on Connecticut Street.

Now federal authorities are keeping a close watch on Pickering – checking his mail, asking past associates about whether he is capable of violent activity and requiring greater clearance when he travels by air – even though he insists he has done nothing to run afoul of the law.

Are Pickering’s views and past associations reason enough for law enforcement agencies to look into what he’s doing now?

The FBI, the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center all considered the Earth Liberation Front that Pickering represented to be involved in “eco-terrorism” that resulted in tens of millions of dollars in property damage.

But Pickering has not been the group’s spokesman for more than a decade, although he still justifies illegal actions against corporations and government agencies under certain circumstances for what he and others consider to be a greater good.

“I’ve had a very public position for almost my whole activist career, and that hasn’t allowed me to do any of this illegal activity I’ve defended,” Pickering said. “Even in my wildest dreams, I might have loved to have been a Robin Hood hero, but that’s not what landed in my lap.”

But Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, thinks law enforcement agencies have good reason to keep tabs on Pickering.

“He’s still advocating a pretty radical ideology, and in some sort of way violence against property, and this is criminal activity that will get the attention of law enforcement,” Segal said.

Pickering – who notes that ELF actions never resulted in physical harm to a person or an animal – has gained a small but vocal group of followers in Buffalo, who feel he is being singled out for having leftist views. Roughly 150 of them attended a fundraiser on his behalf last month.

“I do not advocate any kind of property destruction or illegal activity because of what someone says or thinks. [But] when it’s a company or a government agency that is doing massive physical harm, acting with impunity and not listening to public opinion, then you have to do something about it,” said Pickering, who notes that every social justice movement has had an element of radical activism.

But he insists his views are besides the point. “I’m a bookstore owner,” he said.

Tracking activities

Here’s how security agencies have tracked him in recent months:

• Last September, the FBI called a friend of Pickering’s he had been largely out of touch with for years and asked who Pickering associated with in Buffalo, and if he was capable of violent and illegal activity.

• That same month, a card appeared to have been mistakenly delivered to Pickering’s home mailbox, indicating the post office at 465 Grant St. was providing surveillance of his mail from mid-August to mid-September at the request of an unspecified law enforcement agency.

“Show all mail to supervisor for copying prior to going out on the street,” the card read, with Pickering’s name, the date of the surveillance and “Confidential” written in green highlighter.

• In mid-February, an entity that his bookstore interacts with was presented with a federal grand jury subpoena to provide records.

• On March 3, Pickering was briefly detained in Buffalo by officers from the Transit Security Administration – a branch of the Department of Homeland Security – and reissued a United Airlines ticket with additional screening measures.

Michael Kuzma, Pickering’s attorney, tried to pry loose information from federal authorities through Freedom of Information requests, but met roadblocks.

Representatives of the FBI’s Buffalo office, the U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Transit Security Administration all declined to say whether Pickering was under surveillance or investigation.

“It’s been stressful, and I think that’s kind of the point. We’re not doing anything wrong, but this whole process is designed to make us feel like we are, and make other people think we are,” said Theresa Baker-Pickering, with whom Leslie has a 3-year-old daughter.

Social purpose

Pickering, who grew up in East Aurora and West Seneca, said he knew by his early teens that he wanted his life to be guided by a social purpose. He found it initially in the animal-rights movement after moving to San Francisco with his mother, a nurse, after 10th grade at West Seneca East High School.

Pickering became involved a few years later with the Liberation Collective in Portland, Ore., and estimates he was arrested two dozen times for acts of civil disobedience, including seven convictions for violations or misdemeanors, the last in 1999.

The Liberation Collective also began receiving unsigned “communiques” from the Earth Liberation Front, which between 1997 and 2001 committed more than 30 acts of destruction – at sites ranging from automobile dealerships and housing developments to logging companies and universities – that averaged $2.5 million in damages.

Those actions were championed by supporters, and condemned by others – especially those victimized by the actions.

“ELF firebombings are hate crimes against those of us whose missions in life are to increase human knowledge and bring a sense of wonder to the classes we teach,” University at Washington professor Toby Bradshaw wrote after his office was firebombed in the mistaken belief that he was planning to conduct experiments on genetically engineered trees.

Pickering and another activist, Craig Rosebraugh, opened the ELF’s official press office in 2000 and ran it for two years. They issued press releases, held news conferences and defended ELF’s practices, with Pickering’s media appearances ranging from Rolling Stone to Fox News.

Law enforcement took notice. The house they shared was raided twice by the FBI, which carted away computers and other equipment but never leveled charges.

It was after that incident that Pickering – who said he never knew the identities of ELF members until they were arrested – returned home to work on the family’s small blueberry farm outside East Aurora.

 

A different path

Pickering returned to school and graduated from Goddard College in Vermont with master’s degrees in history and journalism. He wrote books on the ELF and on Sam Melville, who in 1969 was involved in bombing the Federal Office Building and other government and commercial buildings in New York City before being killed in the 1971 Attica Prison uprising.

In 2008, Pickering, his wife and Nate Buckley bought the Connecticut Street building where Burning Books is located, and after extensive remodeling, opened their store two years ago.

The store is filled with books and videos about radical history, many about the 1960s and ’70s, on subjects from the Black Panther Party and Malcolm X to historians Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, as well as animal rights, environmental activism, labor struggles and international movements for social justice. The bookstore also hosts speakers and community gatherings.

Posters commemorate the Attica uprising, Che Guevara and Leonard Peltier, and there are flyers in support of Bradley Manning, a soldier charged with leaking national secrets, and a petition against hydraulic fracturing.

The bookstore also carries the 2011 Academy Award-nominated documentary, “If a Tree Fell: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front,” in which Pickering appears.

“We all know Buffalo is small enough, and there is no terrorist threat,” said Kuzma, Pickering’s attorney. [Fear of terrorism] has been used by the people who really own and run this country to curtail our civil liberties, and Leslie is a victim of this.”

But Segal of the Anti-Defamation League thinks Pickering is a legitimate person of interest to federal authorities.

“[The ELF] did advocate a pretty radical ideology in terms of pushing for a form of violence in the street,” Segal said. “Even if it’s in your past, you’re going to be looked at by law enforcement.”

FBI Monitored Anarchists, “Militant Feminists”

If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

Officials: Informant violated probation

An arsonist who testified against radical environmentalists is back in jail

By Jack Moran
The Register-Guard
Published: Today
Jacob Jeremiah Ferguson, the arsonist-turned- informant who helped federal officials convict 10 co-conspirators in the largest-ever prosecution of underground environmental radicals, was arrested this week after authorities accused him of violating terms of the probation he received in 2008 in exchange for his cooperation with the government.
Ferguson, a 38-year-old Eugene resident, is being held in the Lane County Jail. He is scheduled to appear Monday in U.S. District Court in Eugene for a status conference.
A spokeswoman in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland did not have information on what led officials to arrest Ferguson for an alleged probation violation.
If Ferguson’s probation is revoked, he could be sent to prison.
Ferguson pleaded guilty in 2007 to one count each of arson and attempted arson, as part of an agreement with prosecutors that allowed him to avoid prison and instead be placed on probation for five years. Continue reading

Steve Murphy update: food situation improves, hunger strike ended

From Steve’s support crew:

January 6, 2010:
We received this message from Steve this morning :

—————

Hey folks
Please stop contacting the prison. my food sitch has improved slightly for
now. it will get better once we are off full lock down too.
thank you all for the love and support!!!

Much love to you all!!!

S~
—————

Thanks for all that sent messages, emails, phone calls and sent letters to
Steve.

Support Crew

Operation Backfire prisoner Jonathan Paul freed

Paul From Earth First News:

Jonathan Paul has been released from prison and is on his way back to Oregon where he will be required to spend some time at a halfway house before returning to his wife and animal children. One more of the non-cooperating heroes freed. Send him your support as he begins the difficult process of putting a life back together after 5 years of hell. click here for more.

Friends of Jonathan Paul
PMB 267
2305 Ashland St., Ste. C
Ashland, OR 97520

ELF prisoner Steve Murphy on hunger strike, support needed!

Steve Murphy is currently hunger striking and needs your help. The prison went on lockdown in early December and since that time Steve has not had access to healthy vegan food. He was only receiving a few pieces of bread each day with an apple or orange. Steve has put in numerous requests to the prison in an attempt to get vegan food, but all of his requests have been ignored.

Please call the prison and request that Steve be given food that he can eat.

FCI BEAUMONT MEDIUM
Phone: 409-727-0101
Fax: 409-720-5000
General: (202) 307-3198
E-mail address: BMM/EXECASSISTANT@BOP.GOV

For more information on Steve and how you can help, please visit: http://supportsteve.org/

New Anarchist Vegan Prisoners Support Group Formed in Mexico: “Until the End”

- This prisoner support group supporting anti-civilization (animal and earth liberation) of Mexico was formed due to the urgent need to support our comrades who have fallen into the dungeons of the enemy.

- With the expansion that has taken place in the fight for animal and earth liberation in Mexico, the state has implemented forms of repression against anarchists and eco cells, and against the anarchist movement in general in a battle to the death. During the last few years in Mexico, individuals have fallen into the dungeons of different individual Mexican states; it is now time, as Anarchists, to set aside fear and deal directly with the threat against freedom.

So far there are two prisoners in Mexico, eco-anarchists who are locked up; their sentences in prison promise to be “exemplary” for those who are breaking with the reality imposed on the rest of us. Their names are Abraham Lopez Magdaleno Martinez and Adrian Gonzales; this group seeks to aid them both in and out of prison, to avoid any pitfalls that those who fight victoriously for revolution might have to face someday.
Continue reading

Documenting the surge in government repression against the Animal and Earth Liberation Movements

A roundup of recent FBI visits, subpoenas, and other government assaults on the animal liberation movement in August:

From Voice of the Voiceless

New AETA 4 DNA warrant

This week, Joseph Buddenberg of the AETA 4 was the target of a warrant for his DNA. A quote from the agent who authored the affidavit:

“I believe probable cause exists that Buddenberg was involved in the February 24, 2008 altercation at the L.H./J.R. residence in Santa Cruz…. The samples from the bullhorn found in Khajavi’s vehicle will yield evidence that Buddenberg was involved in force, violence, and threats involving animal enterprises, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 43 & 371″

Read the full affidavit here.

Buddenberg submitted himself to FBI agents this week, who took four swabs of DNA.

While the AETA 4 indictment was recently thrown out, this recent government offensive indicates the case is not yet over. The case , if continued, stands to be a precedent-setting Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act case with implications for all activists.
Continue reading

Eric McDavid appeal update

ericYesterday, August 9th, oral arguments for Eric’s appeal were heard at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Most of the discussion focused on the incorrect written response to a question the jurors asked during deliberations at Eric’s trial (the oral answer to a jury question was the complete opposite from the written answer – the jury reached a guilty verdict soon after). The presiding judge on the panel seemed particularly interested in this issue (she wrote a previous decision for the 9th circuit in which a case was reversed due to an erroneous jury instruction).

The opening brief in Eric’s appeal contained 9 separate arguments. Yesterday the court focused primarily on one of those. It would be unfortunate if the court failed to consider these other issues, as they are all important and speak to the multitude of injustices that occurred throughout Eric’s case (pre-arrest, through trial and sentencing). But while it is impossible and probably counterproductive to speculate about any possible outcomes for this appeal, we were encouraged by the panel’s interest in this key issue.

The prosecution, lacking any solid arguments about why this issue was “harmless error,” resorted (as they usually do) to their typical bag of tricks and lies. We know we probably don’t need to go into detail here – but just keep this in mind if you choose to listen to the arguments.

If you are interested in listening to yesterday’s proceedings in their entirety, you can listen here.

Now we begin what could potentially be a very long waiting period. The 9th Circuit takes, on average, between 6 months to a year to issue a decision after oral arguments. This will not be an easy wait! Please continue to write Eric and offer your support. For more information on how to support (and write!) Eric, please visit the website: http://www.supporteric.org

Yours,
SPS

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