Almost a year after the “RNC 8” were arrested based on conspiracy charges about their alleged plans to disrupt the RNC, they were scheduled to appear before Judge Teresa Warner on August 19 for a scheduling hearing. Then, once again, the hearing was postponed.
The scheduling hearing, whenever it is finally held, will deal with a host of issues including whether the Eight can be tried in one trial, whether the prosecutors have furnished defense attorneys with all the evidence requested in discovery motions, and whether the defendants can be tried for actions that were done by other people after the defendants were already locked up in jail.
The eight defendants from the RNC Welcoming Committee, an anarchist/anti-authoritarian group, are Luce Guillen Givins, Max Specktor, Nathanael Secor, Eryn Trimmer, Monica Bicking, Erik Oseland, Robert Czernik and Garrett Fitzgerald. All were arrested during the weekend before the RNC started last September.
They’re charged with conspiracy to commit riot in the second degree and conspiracy to commit criminal damage to property in the first degree. The two conspiracy charges were originally enhanced with a terrorism charge under the 2002 Minnesota version of the Federal Patriot Act, but on March 3rd Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner dropped the terrorism enhancement.
Besides scheduling further court appearances, the defense is making a motion to try all eight defendants in one trial, rather than having separate trials. Ted Dooley, Eric Oseland’s lawyer, said that the 8 decided to be tried as one to reduce costs, and to make the process shorter. He also said that since the trials will be highly publicized, finding an unbiased jury for the subsequent trials would difficult if the trials were separate.
Paul Gustafson, spokesperson for the Ramsey County District Attorney’s office, said the prosecution’s position is that they should be tried separately. “In Minnesota, the State courts do not try multiple people in the same trial,” Gustafson said.
According to Dooley, the county asked for one trial originally- in October. “They asked for that specifically,” Dooley said. “They were quite clear about it. Then somewhere after that, they said they didn’t want that. As a practical matter, they should want one trial because they’re going to go bankrupt.”
Gustafson said that the concern is that in one trial, the defendants could potentially hurt each others’ defense. “They could start pointing fingers at each other,” Gustafson said.
Travis Snider, Robert Czernik’s lawyer, said that the problem with Gustafson’s argument is that the defendants are charged with conspiracy. “Under conspiracy law,” Snider said, “Any statement can be used against other people.” In other words, in terms of guilt or not guilt, they are all in the same boat, because even if one of the eight didn’t commit a certain act, if they are a part of the same conspiracy, they are still guilty. On the other hand, Snider said that in terms of sentencing, they could get “perhaps a lesser sentence if their actions are different.”
Also at issue on Wednesday’s hearing is whether all the evidence has been presented to both sides. Snider said: “Part of it is that we’re not sure whether or not we have [all the evidence]- they have an obligation to have it- we don’t know if there’s info out there that we are entitled to.” Video, photos, and police reports, coming in from various jurisdictions may still be out there, according to Snider.
“Bobby Fletcher keeps a closet with buckets of pee pee,” said Dooley. “That stuff hasn’t been analyzed by anybody…At some point- they’re going to have to tell us what evidence they’re going to use, and what witnesses.” Dooley said that he believed the FBI was withholding some of the evidence. “This whole thing is insane,” he said. “It’s Kafka-esque.”
The defense will also make a motion on Wednesday not to include in the charges crimes that occurred on September 1, since all of the defendants were in jail at that time. “They were all locked up during everything that happened- if you’re locked up, you’re no longer part of it,” said Dooley. Though the terrorism enhancements were dropped, the conspiracy charges contend that the defendants helped in the planning of illegal acts. “They’re saying it’s illegal to plan,” said Dooley. “It’s illegal to think. As sweet as they want to make it, that’s what this is about. Do not advocate. Do not do political theater. Do not make puppets. Don’t do street theater at all. Go home and talk to each other.”
Mordecai Specktor, Max Specktor’s father, and publisher of The Jewish World newspaper, said “I think the RNC 8 case represents an attempt to chill radical political organizing.” He’s concerned about the state of civil liberties in this country. “To realize that my son and his associates were doing this political organizing,” Specktor said, “and had been infiltrated for a long time by police informants… what I turn over in my mind- what did they do? They’re supposed to have the right to organize, assemble, speak out. Where’s the justification for this infiltration and surveillance of a political group?”
Specktor described the experience of having his son go through this ordeal as “discombobulating.” But he said he was hopeful in that he’s gotten a lot of responses from friends and acquaintances in the community, expressing concern and support. Ultimately, he said, “My wife and I are proud of Max. We are glad that he is dedicated to improving society, trying to create a more just and peaceful world.”
Robert Czernik said he’s had to put a lot of things on hold because of court dates. “My time is taken time up with our case- I can’t do the work I want to do. They use these kinds of charges on us to stop us from doing any kind of organizing.” Still, when he can he has been trying to do solidarity around foreclosures, and environmental justice work.
While he sees that the dropping of the terrorist enhancements was a victory, “Fighting these conspiracy charges is a major battle.” Since his arrest, he said, “I see the same things happening to other activists around the country,” where organizers are charged without proof or evidence. “Our case is really important.”
At 33 years old, Czernik is a little bit older than the other defendants, who are mostly in their twenties, but he said he is amazed by “how solid and humble everyone is. I’ve learned a lot form the people I’m in struggle with right now.” He described the RNC 8 as a family. “We have our ups and downs, but we keep operating by consensus,” he said. “We’re trying to stand really solid together.”
He said he hopes everyone will come out and support the RNC 8 on Wednesday morning for the rally, followed by the court hearing.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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