Tuesday was supposed to be the beginning of a lengthy Green Scare trial in Davenport, Iowa, seeking to find Scott DeMuth guilty of conspiracy to commit animal enterprise terrorism in relation to an Animal Liberation Front action at the University of Iowa. But on Monday afternoon in federal court, DeMuth agreed to a deal on a different charge--calling off the trial and leaving the FBI empty-handed on the 2004 animal experimentation facility raid.
After the prison sentence, DeMuth will be placed on supervised probation, but without electronic home monitoring or a fine. His plea does not implicate anyone else in the alleged conspiracy, and he will not have to testify against anyone.
The deal also means that Carrie Feldman, previously jailed on civil contempt in the case, and another person, Sonia Silvernail, are released from their subpoenas to the trial. The two would have been forced testify for the government or risk contempt charges.
Monday's resolution was mediocre at best for the federal government's crusade to criminalize aboveground activity in support of animal liberation and animal liberation prisoners through terrorism charges. In July, charges against four California activists indicted under the AETA were dismissed because the government could not clearly define what crimes they were being alleged to have committed. The prosecutor there had sought to vilify such simple acts as protesting and sidewalk chalking by the activists.
The superceding indictment against DeMuth--who is not a vegan or vegetarian, as most animal liberationists are--in April of this year expanded his original charge to add an alleged but unspecified involvement in the 2006 raid of Lakeside Ferrets. The former mink farm sits in the central Minnesota town of Howard Lake, an hour west of Minneapolis.
An ALF communique after that raid said in part, "To all fur farmers, furriers, and profiters of death, this is the last warning: close down your businesses, or with boltcutters, fire, and storm, we’ll do it for you. You can try to scare us, you can try to imprison us, and you can even try to kill us, but the day we stop will be the day that the last animal has been freed from its cage."
Peter Young, author of the animal liberation news site Voice of the Voiceless, wrote,
On April 29th, 2006, anonymous activists cut holes in the fence, entered the breeder shed, and released hundreds of mink. ... The Fur Commission USA claimed after the raid that activists mistook ferrets for mink, and in fact the “mink farm” was actually a ferret farm. While there is evidence to suggest the farm is now a ferret farm, the location in Howard Lake was at one time called the Latzig Mink Ranch. The farm was the site of one of the first-ever mink releases in the U.S. in 1996, when 1,000 mink were liberated.
Hundreds of animals were also saved from torture and death via the raid on Spence Laboratories on November 14, 2004. It also left $450,000 in damages. A communique after that action said in part,
This was not thoughtless vandalism but a methodical effort to cripple the UI psychology department's animal research. Only equipment in rooms where animals were confined and tortured were targeted. Only computers belonging to or used in the work of vivisectors were destroyed. Only documents of animal researchers waere doused in acid. The acid a deliberately chosen paper dissolving agent. Our goal is total abolition of all animal exploitation. Achieved in the short term by delivering the 401 animals from UI's chamber of hell. And in the extended term by shutting down the labs through the erasing of research and equipment used in the barbaric practice of vivisection. The entire raid was a careful and deliberate 5-pronged assault on UI's animal research.
The raid and arson had been a coveted Green Scare case for the FBI, whose frustration at a lack of leads apparently led them to find the best target they could muster on shoddy evidence, much of it gained from an unrelated raid of DeMuth's home during the the 2008 Republican National Convention.
DeMuth is known for his organizing in the Dakota community and in support of political prisoners of all stripes, which supporters speculate may well be a reason he was targeted.
The defense had argued that the indictment on November 19, 2009, shortly after he and Carrie Feldman refused to cooperate with a grand jury investigation, fell after the five-year statute of limitations for the crime. But the prosecution prevailed in their argument that the statute of limitations could be extended due to a technicality.
In an article in the University of Iowa newspaper the Daily Iowan published Monday morning, UI sociology professor Kevin Leicht said, "It's going to be interesting to see how the trial unfolds, because it's been quite a while since the vandalism happened in the first place. It will be interesting to see what type of information comes out. I'm definitely going to watch."
Professor Jennifer Glanville added, "I would love to see the people who actually committed this crime be convicted," and also indicated she would watch the trial.
If both had actually been following in the case up to this point, they would have noted that prosecutor Clifford Cronk's attempted to undermine DeMuth's academic integrity by seeking information on his own sociological research. Other scholars, including DeMuth's advisor and many colleagues at the University of Minnesota, have chosen to stand for academic freedom by supporting DeMuth and forming the group Scholars for Academic Justice.
After the 2004 raid, the University of Iowa announced that its new $11.2 million animal experimentation facility would be built underground, indicative of the fear such universities have of their daily business harming animals coming into the public light.
Today's developments in court, shutting the door on a conviction over the raid, ought to rightfully give so-called animal researchers unease in the knowledge that animal liberationists will not be easily deterred. Ironically, 400 mink were released from a fur farm in Washington state just last week.