March 26 - 28, 2010
By LINDA GREENE
No news is good news, as the saying goes, but when it comes to the
legal case of Hugh Farrell and Gina "Tiga" Wertz, no news is ambiguous.
Farrell and Wertz engaged in peaceful protests against the I-69
highway, and the State of Indiana has charged them with felony
racketeering and several misdemeanors.
Wertz is charged with intimidation, a class A misdemeanor, two
counts; conversion (unauthorized use of someone else's property), a
class A misdemeanor, two counts; and corrupt business influence
(racketeering), a class C felony. Her bond was set at $10,000.
Farrell is charged with two counts of intimidation, two counts of
conversion and corrupt business influence; his bond was set at $20,000.
At the Petersburg courthouse on Jan. 21, at the first court hearing
since Wertz and Farrell's arrest, their attorneys moved for the judge
to dismiss the racketeering charge and to reduce the misdemeanor
charges. The judge responded that he would take the issue "under
advisement" and make his decision "soon."
According to mostlyeverything.net, at the hearing, "The prosecutor
was playing dirty, even going so far as to liken Tiga and Hugh's
charges with murder." Yet in their protests no one was hurt, nor was
any property damaged.
A pretrial court hearing was scheduled for March 4. On March 2
Farrell and Wertz learned that the March 4 hearing was postponed
indefinitely, and the judge hadn't announced his decision about
dismissing and reducing the charges.
The arrest warrants allege that the defendants were affiliated with
Roadblock Earth First! and describe the organization as "an
enterprise with the stated and actual objective of discouraging
and/or obstructing the lawful construction of I-69. . . ."
"At the Petersburg courthouse on Jan. 21, ... their attorneys moved
for the judge to dismiss the racketeering charge and to reduce the
Farrell and Wertz are charged with intimidation for removing
furniture and posting an eviction notice on the front door of an
state I-69 office; allegedly participating in a tree sit; and,
according to Farrell's arrest warrant, "kicking over chairs, climbing
on a table and shouting at members of the public" during an I-69
The felony racketeering charges stem from the defendants' allegedly
"conspiring" to commit the above actions, along with their
door-to-door visits to homeowners living in the path of the highway.
The arrest warrant accuses the defendants of "advocating anarchy,
property destruction and violence, including advocating literature
and materials which advocate anarchy, property destruction and violence. ..."
Activists say Farrell and Wertz are being prosecuted because they
have been some of the most outspoken opponents of I-69. The charges
are clearly political, intended to silence and punish them for their
views and for exercising their right to free speech.
According to local activist Alex Smith, "The state is taking a
forceful and draconian approach. The state feels they have to crush
this because the opposition is big, and there is resistance. The
state is trying to alienate the activist community from those who are
also against I-69, but who are not taking an activist approach. Their
strategy is to create a wedge."
The arrests, by the Indiana State Police and Indiana Department of
Natural Resources Ecoterrorism Task Force, bear the earmarks of FBI
"The judge responded that he would take the issue 'under advisement'
and make his decision 'soon.'"
Harassment through the legal system is a standard FBI method of
dealing with activists. The outlandish charges with high bail are
calculated to intimidate and frighten. Frequent postponement of court
hearings bogs down the defendants, wasting their attorneys' time and
raising their fees and travel expenses. The harassment says to
community organizers, "Be careful -- we're watching you. If you speak
out, you might be charged with a criminal offense."
Covert action directed against political activists, as indymedia.org
points out, is the quintessential FBI activity. "Part of COINTELPRO
and other intelligence agendas, the FBI has been engaged in domestic
surveillance activities and have been falsely targeting political
activists since the 1960s."
In recent years the FBI identified the Animal Liberation Front and
Earth Liberation front as the top domestic terrorism threats.
"Eco-sabotage" is the government's top domestic terrorism priority.
The focus on these activist organizations is now being used to
justify repression against community organizers.
The FBI has a long history of coordinating operations with other arms
of law enforcement. In one infamous case, the assasination of Chicago
Black Panther Fred Hampton in 1969, the Chicago police carried out
the murder with the help of a map of Hampton's apartment the FBI provided.
FBI agents have been spotted at Wertz and Farrell's two court dates,
as well as on the day of the arrests.
The FBI's Ecoterrorism Task Force has an office in Bloomington.
Eugene, Ore., is the only other city that has such an office.
"The prosecutor was playing dirty, even going so far as to liken Tiga
and Hugh's charges with murder."With reference to Operation Backfire,
an earlier "eco-sabotage" investigation that the FBI spearhearded in
2005, a news release from the National Lawyers Guild quotes Executive
Director Heidi Boghosian, "In the past few years, the Guild has
witnessed a disturbing trend of targeting protesters engaged in
dissent, and in imposing draconian sentences for expressing such
dissent. Life sentences for property damage offenses where the actor
has no intent to harm an individual are simply unconstitutional --
the punishment does not fit the crime."
Before 9/11, it would have been impossible to bring such "draconian"
charges against people engaged in nonviolent action. Since then the
government has increasingly criminalized dissent under the heading of
domestic terrorism. The FBI needs a new domestic target so it looks
like it's accomplishing something. Arresting activists makes law
enforcement look good.
Conviction of Farrell and Wertz would set a powerful precedent,
allowing the government to more boldly charge visible and public
organizers in a variety of movements with exotic charges.
Linda Greene can be reached at
This article originally appeared on the
Friday, March 26, 2010
March 26 - 28, 2010