Last week, anarchist environmental activist Eric McDavid was freed after spending almost nine years in prison for conspiracy to commit arson.
Although he had been sentenced to serve another 10 years, federal prosecutors agreed that he should be released because the FBI had withheld potentially exculpatory documents from defense attorneys. Those documents would have bolstered McDavid’s claim that he was entrapped into talking about explosives and possible targets including the Nimbus Dam and a U.S. Forest Service lab, by an FBI informant known as “Anna,” with whom he had sought a romantic relationship.
The thousands of pages finally turned over included love letters he’d sent her and documents showing that extensive surveillance of McDavid before he came under Anna’s influence had failed to reveal any predisposition to commit the crimes he was accused of plotting. “If the government had provided the missing information to Eric’s trial counsel, as should have been done, counsel would have used it to question Anna’s veracity and to show Eric was entrapped. He never would have had to spend nine years in prison,” Mark Vermeulen, one of McDavid’s attorneys, said in a statement.
In order to be released immediately, McDavid agreed to plead guilty to the much lesser charge of general conspiracy—which carries a maximum sentence of five years—and waive his right to sue the government. U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr., the judge in Sacramento, California, who had sentenced McDavid to 235 months in prison—just six months short of the maximum—was incensed when he found out about the documents.
Despite the deal worked out, England insisted he be given details of how the materials could have been kept from defense lawyers in the first place. “I sat through the 10-day trial of Mr. McDavid,” a clearly exasperated England said, sometimes stopping to hold his head in his left hand. “I know he’s not necessarily a choirboy, but he doesn’t deserve to go through this, either. It’s not fair.” McDavid, who stood between his two attorneys in an orange jail jumpsuit with his hands shackled to his waist, listened quietly as the judge persisted. “This is huge,” England said. “This is something that needs to be dealt with, and I want to know what happened.”
Prosecutors and the FBI claimed they did not know why the FBI had kept the evidence from McDavid’s team. But this withholding of evidence is just the latest in a series of deplorable moves by the federal government, which trampled McDavid’s rights in its overzealous pursuit of “eco-terrorists.”
It starts with the way McDavid was targeted based on his First Amendment activity and the way the FBI orchestrated a plot that he never would have contemplated, but for the machinations of Anna. In 2006, when McDavid was arrested, the FBI was in the midst of a well-publicized crusade against “eco-terrorism,” having been embarrassed by underground groups like the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front eluding capture after actions that had caused millions of dollars in property damage.
“The No. 1 domestic terrorism threat is the eco-terrorism, animal rights movement,” the bureau proclaimed. The arrest of McDavid and his comrades was an opportunity to highlight both the supposed grave threat of eco-terrorism and an FBI success in countering it. In fact, it was neither. It was just another case of the FBI infiltrating a political or religious group, finding vulnerable members and manipulating them into talking about and “planning” a terror attack. The twist in this case was the use of a female, Anna.
“In early 2006, eco-terrorist Eric McDavid and two associates met in a secluded cabin in Dutch Flat, California to discuss making improvised explosive devices and to choose targets to bomb. Soon after, they began casing the targeted facilities and buying supplies to make bombs. But before they started mixing the ingredients, we swooped in and arrested them.” FBI website
The FBI spokesperson who wrote that neatly obscured the fact that there were actually four people in the cabin in the woods. Along with the three who were arrested was Anna, then 19 years old, a paid FBI informant for two years.
In fact, according to FBI documents, she had “provided much of the financial support, the encouragement and the know-how needed to turn their talk into action. They also show that whenever the group started to lose focus, or to have second thoughts, Anna badgered them about being all talk and not sticking to an action plan.”
McDavid met her at an anarchist convention in Iowa in 2004. Apparently he found her both terribly cute and politically inspiring, and the two developed a flirtatious relationship, which she deftly manipulated. They got together again at a conference in Philadelphia in June 2005 and discussed “direct action” (which can mean anything from nonviolent civil disobedience—like blocking the entrance to a store—to minor vandalism to setting a building on fire) with two others, Zachary Jenson and Lauren Weiner.
The four agreed to get together again, but would probably have lost touch if not for Anna’s diligent efforts to corral them and push them to engage in a “direct action” together. She rented the California cabin with FBI-provided money, paid for Weiner’s airfare to fly out there, shared a recipe to make an explosive, and constantly badgered the group to choose a target.
Despite Anna’s best efforts, the group never did choose a target or make a plan. Facing decades in prison, Jenson and Weiner both pled guilty and agreed to testify against McDavid. Jenson has said that prosecutors pressured him to lie on the witness stand.
McDavid has always asserted that all three of them were entrapped by an overzealous FBI and its informant. “Anna literally herded the group together from around the country, paying for their transportation, food, and lodging,” said Ben Rosenfeld, one of McDavid’s attorneys, in a statement issued on Jan. 8 after he was freed. “And when they failed to show enthusiasm for her schemes, she berated them and threw fits. Any conspiracy that existed was hers, not theirs.”
 Conspiracy of dunces, Sacramento News & Review, 7/27/2006 http://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/conspiracy-of-dunces/content?oid=80311