OPINION | The RNC 8 Railroad


It’s not speculation that the Republican National Convention 2008 was rigged to be protest proof. It’s practically a truth we hold to be self-evident. Now the courts are playing out that string. Law enforcement acted arbitrarily, immune to account. Cops pepper-sprayed and handcuffed citizens like it was lunch, perceptibly, storm troopers putting down an uprising.

Having good reason, or vaguely probable cause, didn’t enter the picture. No one even had to look at one of them funny. If you were on the street anywhere near the Xcel Convention Center between Sept. 1 through 4, it pretty much was your ***. That included some poor woman who, simply out taking in the day, got snatched up in the dragnet and was hauled off to jail. Of the hundreds charged with disorderly conduct, parading without a permit and other offenses, the bulk have already been acquitted. FBI infiltrator-informant Andrew Darst, however, got convicted of assault and property damage. So, along with slipshod prosecution, there’s the embarrassment that the Feds enlisted a criminal who couldn’t stay out of trouble until after he testified for the state.

Activists across the country have sworn up and down since the first arrests that cops’ actions and politicians’ failure to call police departments to account amounts to a selective repealing of the U.S. Constit- ution’s First Amendment (that’s the one about freedom of speech and everyone’s right to peacefully assemble). It is hard to argue. Whooping and hollering, marching down the street with placards and banners may not be the most serene way to state a case. Such demonstration, at worst practicing time-honored civil disobedience, nonetheless qualifies as peaceful assemblage.

St. Paul’s Ramsey County has whittled the cops’ haul down to the last cases, those city prosecutor John Choi hopes to convince a jury hold water. Among those still charged, he’s trying to nail to the proverbial courthouse door defendants nationally known as the RNC 8: Luce Guillen-Givens, Max Specktor, Nathanael Secor, Ervy Trimmer, Monica Bicking, Erik Oseland, Robert Czernik and Garrett Fitzgerald. They’re charged with Conspiracy to Riot in the furtherance of Terrorism, a felony.

Mordecai Specktor, publisher-editor of The American Jewish World, believes, from the first, police intelligence went off half-cocked on a witch-hunt. “There were all these allegations at the outset by Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher that this was [a] criminal conspiracy. They were [supposedly] going to kidnap Republican delegates to the convention.

“They were going to hide sharpened spears inside puppets and use them as weapons against the police. Burn tires on the freeways.”

Based on the imagined likelihood of such actions, police raided a convergence center in St. Paul and three South Minneapolis homes. And found nothing of substance. That didn’t keep Sheriff Fletcher from holding an Aug. 30 press conference, producing buckets of urine and other items confiscated from the Minneapolis raid. He produced a slingshot that anarchists supposedly were going to use against police—a bike inner tube and a rock.

“They could raid [the garage at] my house and find bottles. They could find some rags. And they could find gas and oil for the lawn mower. There’s your Molotov cocktail. The dangerous thing is that the conspiracy charge [against the RNC 8] is so broad and the terrain keeps shifting so far as the prosecution’s case.”

The danger being that it adds up to a possible seven and a half years in prison for each defendant.

The charges, Specktor says, basically duplicate one another in some cases: two charges bolstered by accusation of terrorism components; conspiracy to commit riot; and conspiracy to damage property. He doubts duplicative nature of the charges will hold up, but how would you like to take that chance on the receiving end? “They shouldn’t be throwing all this stuff against the wall to see what sticks.”

Authorities, indeed, are dropping a heavy hammer on these defendants for exercising good old American independence in opposition to the status quo. That includes doing their best to hamstring the defense by obstructing, as much as possible, access to discovery materials (stuff that might exonerate the RNC 8). The prosecution filed a motion for a protective order with Judge Teresa Warner (twice elected after being appointed in 1998 by staunch right-wing Gov. Arne Carlson) to keep defense attorneys from giving their clients the materials, including documents and video tapes from Ramsey County informants. They’d have to look at the material in their attorneys’ offices. “It seems,” Specktor says, “they’re becoming more desperate.”

Skeptics may discount Mordecai Specktor, claiming a conflict-of-interest because his son is one of the accused and that it’s the only reason Specktor is making the case that the police and prosecution effectively want to repeal the First Amendment. Fact is, regarding his history of involvement in social justice movements, Specktor did not drop down with yesterday’s rainfall and, likely would say nothing different regardless of the defendant. He’s always been outspoken and active when he believes the hand of political oppression is holding sway. As a teenager, he sold brotherhood buttons door-to-door in Mendota Heights to raise money for SNCC and hasn’t stopped sticking his neck out since. He went, in November of 1969, to the massive antiwar moratorium march and rally in Washington, D.C., tried, at Macalester College, to have student government call the school administration to return a $50,000 donation from Charles Engelhard (an American investor in apartheid South Africa), and over the past three decades has focused a freelance journalistic career on human rights issues.

He comments, “The suspension of the Bill of Rights here during the Republican National Convention has had a profound effect on my political thinking. In St. Paul we saw the dress rehearsal for a police state.” Not, of course, that he’s immune to a father’s sentiment. “The fact that my son, Max, now faces 15 years in prison for his energetic political organizing further motivates me to keep this issue before the public.” Clearly, with all the acquittals and dismissed cases that have taken place and continue to take place, authorities want to clean egg off their faces.

Using the lives and liberty of the RNC 8 as wipe-rag, though is a reckless, even ruthless, way to go about it. The Ramsey County Courthouse is at 15 W. Kellogg Blvd. in St. Paul. Link to the RNC 8: http://rnc-8.org/.