The Grand Jury: An Affront to Liberty and a Political Prisoner Machine


On Tuesday, May 21, 2013, anarchist lawyer and activist Gerald “Jerry” Koch was taken into custody in New York City for refusing to testify before a grand jury regarding the 2008 Times Square Military Recruitment Center bombing. This is the second time Koch has been subpoenaed, after the government informed his lawyers that it was believed that he was at a bar in 2008 or 2009 where a patron indicated knowledge of who had committed the bombing.

Koch is the latest victim in the Red and Black scare, a FBI campaign which began in earnest shortly after the Occupy Oakland demonstrations in 2011, where activists are being targeted for their political views and not on the basis of suspected criminal activity.

Another recent and prominent victim is libertarian Adam Kokesh, who is being held for resisting arrest during an anti-drug war demonstration. Kokesh may have been targeted due to publicity surrounding his upcoming “Open Carry March” on Washington, an action that remains controversial even among gun rights activists. One salient question is, in light of the successful 3D printing of a firearm (a movement initiated by Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed), whether this flamboyant open rebellion against state encroachment is even necessary.

Witch Hunt

Instead of McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee of the “Cold” War, the Obama administration’s weapon of choice in the war on dissent is the eternally authoritarian grand jury.

This fresh abuse of power comes on the heels of numerous grand jury subpoenas of anarchists on spurious charges in the Pacific Northwest. Young anarchist were targeted in a series of FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force on July 25 of 2012 during an investigation into “acts of vandalism” that took place during the Seattle May Day protests just two months prior.

The search warrants issued required victims to provide agents with “anti-government or anarchist literature,” including flags, cell phones, hard drives, address books and black clothing.

Despite not being present or involved in the May Day march, Maddie Pfeiffer, Katherine “KteeO” Olejnik and Matt Duran were each imprisoned for almost six months for contempt of court after refusing to speak before the grand jury. They were mainly asked whether or not they knew other anarchists in their community and what their politics were.

Manufacturing Political Prisoners

Grand juries are when the state ostensibly believes you have knowledge of a crime and subpoenas you before a court — or else you face prison time. That’s right. If you don’t talk, have fun in prison. No evidence of wrongdoing required. Your freedom is revoked simply by failing to provide information to or submit your body before the cold legal machinations of a witch-hunt state.

Furthermore, you can’t have a lawyer in the room with you when before a federal grand jury, and the proceedings are not open to the public. Finally, there is no judge present in the courtroom. There are instead 16 to 23 citizen jurors and the whole affair is coordinated by the prosecutor, the Assistant US Attorney (AUSA).

As you might imagine, grand juries tend to indict successfully (estimates around 98% of the time). This led Judge Saul Wachler to state that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.”

While the United States has been fond of grand juries, most other “nations” have long ago done away with this barbaric display of state power. The first such courtroom to be called a grand jury began with an 1166 act of Henry II of England, in an attempt to increase the power of the royal court over the local feudal courts. England abolished the grand jury in the Criminal Justice Act of 1948.

Back in the land of the free, the grand jury lays the groundwork for litigation by the attorney general (now district attorney) — prosecution by the state instead of by an aggrieved private party. This is how victimless crimes are punished, most notably the war on drugs (or tax evasion). The Black Panthers, anarchists, communists, environmental and animal rights activists have all been subjected to grand juries.

Take Action 

Koch, who has a record of defending Occupiers and activists, faces 18 months behind bars. An excerpt from a personal statement:

Over the past few decades, the FBI has demonstrated a consistent pattern of harassment and illegal surveillance of anarchists and other radicals not only here in New York, but also across the country.

Throughout this time, federal grand juries (incredibly secretive proceedings that do not permit one’s lawyers to be present) have played a significant role; a federal grand jury is authorized to ask questions about anything and anyone, and often the declared intention is simply a mask to disguise the actual goal of acquiring information for use in other politically motivated cases.

It is my belief that these two federal grand juries—despite the pretense of investigation into the 2008 bombing—are actually being used to gain information about my friends, loved ones, and activists for whom I have done legal support. By declining to testify, I refuse to be coerced into participating in a political witch-hunt that eerily recalls those of the McCarthy era Red Scare.

Please donate to his legal fund. Find out more on the beautifully designed webpage

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
– Martin Niemöller

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory