OPINION | Dakota activist charged


In the 1950s, a wave of political repression in the U.S. targeted communists and sympathizers (“fellow travelers”). It was called the Red Scare. The new threat to domestic peace and tranquility has been dubbed the Green Scare, in which animal rights and environmental activists have been branded as “eco-terrorists”.

Those convicted of crimes involving property damage have been sentenced to inordinately long prison terms; and there also have been convictions in conspiracy cases under a 2006 federal law called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), legislation pushed by the meat and pharmaceutical industries. 

Scott DeMuth, a young Dakota activist from Minneapolis, is the latest person to run afoul of AETA.

DeMuth, a Dakota language student and a graduate student in the University of Minnesota’s sociology department, was jailed, along with Carrie Feldman, also of Minneapolis, for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury in Davenport, Iowa. Based on entries in a diary seized from a south Minneapolis home raided on the weekend before the 2008 Republican National Convention, DeMuth was charged with conspiracy to commit “animal enterprise terrorism.”

Although grand jury proceedings are secret, DeMuth and Feldman have said that they were called to testify about a 2004 raid on an animal laboratory at the University of Iowa.

Will Potter, a journalist who has done exemplary reporting on Green Scare cases (www.greenisthenewred.com), reported in late November that DeMuth “faces up to 5 years in prison. His indictment marks a continued expansion of the scope of the new terrorism law, which has already been used to target activists who release mink from fur farms, and the AETA 4, who are accused of protesting and chalking on public sidewalks.”

Writing with chalk on a sidewalk? Yes, that’s an element of the AETA 4 case. In the prosecution of another group, the SHAC 7, activists were convicted for running a Web site that reported on animal rights actions. Apart from illegal actions – raids on animal laboratories or property destruction in ostensible defense of the natural environment – the feds are going after people engaged in what seems like completely legal First Amendment activities. Also, in an effort to fan public fears, these cases are branded as “terrorism,” which connotes heinous violence along the lines of the 9/11 attacks.

These cases strike close to home, as my son, Max, is one of the RNC 8, the local activists being prosecuted in Ramsey County stemming from their efforts to organize protests against the 2008 Republican National Convention. Again, the original charge against the RNC 8 defendants was “conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism.” The “terrorism” counts were dropped in April, but the RNC 8 are still being prosecuted on felony conspiracy charges.


Piling up nuclear garbage

I used to work for the Minnesota House of Representatives, in the Public Information Office. I reported on committee meetings and House floor sessions for the nonpartisan group’s Session Weekly. A titanic legislative battle during the 1994 legislative concerned nuclear waste storage at Prairie Island. Northern States Power Co. (now called Xcel Energy) came to the Capitol for permission to store spent nuclear waste from their twin reactors in giant steel casks in the parking lot, a stone’s throw from the Mdewakanton Prairie Island Indian Community.

The utility got their way, then returned to the Legislature in 2003, for approval to expand their on-site nuke waste dump. The legislation to pile up more nuclear garbage passed during the special session that year.

In late November, about 60 Prairie Island community members gathered to protest the new plan to expand nuke waste storage. “Not here, not in our backyard,” said Ron Johnson, president of the tribal council, according to a report in the Rochester Post-Bulletin.

Members of the Dakota band also raised the issue of burial mounds that were disturbed during construction of the nuclear station 30 years ago. Skeletal remains were taken to Hamline University in St. Paul, and the Indian community wants the remains repatriated.


Copper-nickel mining up north

My friend Virgil Sohm visited recently, and he told me about the plans for copper-nickel mining on the Range. An outfit called PolyMet Mining, Inc. has proposed an open pit mine near Babbit an Hoyt Lakes to extract copper, nickel, cobalt and precious metals. Federal and state authorities will be holding public hearings on an environmental impact statement.

The project is shaping up as another conflict between jobs and environmental ruination. The mining operation is within the 1854 Treaty territory, so the Indian bands in the area should have some input in the deliberations.