THIS BLOG is NOW RETIRED

I began this blog in May 2009 following the death of Marcia Powell at Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona. It is not intended to prescribe the path that leads to freedom from the prison industrial complex.

Rather, these are just my observations in arguably the most racist, fascist, militaristic state in the nation at a critical time in history for a number of intersecting liberation movements. From Indigenous resistance to genocidal practices, to the fight over laws like SB1070 and the ban on Ethnic Studies, Arizona is at the center of many battles for human rights, and thus the struggle for prison abolition as well - for none are free until all are. I retired the blog in APRIL 2013.

Visit me now at Arizona Prison Watch or Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ

David Rovics: We Are Everywhere

To my fellow activists now struggling through life - let this be a reminder that you are not alone and that we desperately need you here. All the injustice, grief, war, and human suffering calls for us to stay and do everything we can about it - you can't help us anymore when you're gone. Don't give up the fight - your last shred of hope may just keep someone else alive, too.
BLOG POSTS

Sunday, November 15, 2009

ALF: Sentencing the Voice of the Voiceless

Some of you may know that I had a website on political prisoner news for awhile: Thirteen Springs. Turned out to be more than I could handle with the campaign season upon us, though there are still ghost pages found in the cache of dead-end links. So, if you work at it you might actually find something of it now and then. But for all intents and purposes, it's gone.


Still, I'm getting all this news about political prisoners - the Cubans and Puerto Ricans and Mumia and Leonard, the guys at Angola, the MOVE 9 - and these folks, mentioned here - this one guy in particular who the judge wants to put away as long as he can. The author of this message did an incredible job communicating not only what was going on in the courtroom that day, but also what the bigger context was from multiple perspectives. 

I'll have a lot more to say about this at some other time - maybe when Huntingdon Labs (all the way in England) isn't following my blogs so closely. It makes me wonder if they aren't consulting with someone stateside - I sure hope I'm still within my constitutional rights. They helped prosecute the webmaster for the SHAC7 for organizing people in direct actions - or maybe they just threatened to do the actions. I can't remember, but the sentences were outrageous given that they were organizing resistance against vivisections, a particularly brutal practice in the animal experimentation industry that you can Google yourself.


Anyway, they called it terrorism here and in the UK. That's just so everyone's aware. And Huntingdon played no small role in helping make sure these kids were aggressively prosecuted. They seem especially intrigued with the Free Marcia Powell campaign. I wonder who they might be backing out here?



Here's what up these days with some of the Animal Liberation Front activists. This is very troubling. I'll reserve any further comment on BJ's case until after the sentencing.



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ELP Information Bulletin (15th of November 2009)

Dear friends

ELP has delayed its publication of our November edition of Spirit of Freedom whilst we awaited the sentencing of the American William 'BJ' Viehl.  We expected the sentencing a few days ago.  However we've just received this report (see below).

Important note, if you report this case please only use the below statement.  Do not try to interpret the actions of the mink release in any way other than how they are reported below.  BJ has not been sentenced and there is another defendant in this case, so its important people stick to the facts which are reported below.  Thanks.



http://voiceofthevoiceless.org/sentencing-day-for-bj-viehl-the-full-report/

Report From William “BJ” Viehl’s Sentencing
November 12th, 2009

On November 12th, 2009, both activists and fur farmers converged on the federal courthouse on downtown Salt Lake City to attend the sentencing for William “BJ” Viehl’s. Having pleaded guilty, BJ was to be sentenced for the release of 600 mink from the nearby McMullin Fur Farm. This was the first sentencing under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, and the first for a non-turncoat accused A.L.F. activist (for an A.L.F. action) in over two years.

I had the good fortune of visiting BJ in jail the previous day in what we hoped we be his last jail visit ever. He explained to me the expectation of both himself and his attorney at the sentencing was a sentence of no more than six months.

In the plea agreement, the prosecution agreed to recommend the low end of the guidelines. The AETA has been the subject of much hype, among the criticisms being the harsh sentences imposed for property crimes. A close look at the guidelines however finds that, within a narrow margin of “damage” (the dollar amount being the prime determinate of sentencing guideline placement), the AETA still remains potentially a lesser threat than charges for the same crimes at the state level.

In BJ’s case, the guidelines called for six to ten months. With the prosecution recommending six months, and the judge’s history of adhering to the guidelines, BJ expected to be released from jail in no more than one month. While the guidelines were discretionary, BJ was hopeful for getting released that day.

Present at the hearing were approximately a dozen friends and supporters of BJ, as well as his wife and mother. The opposite side of the aisle was occupied by what we all speculated – by their weight and dress – were fur farmers. We would later learn Chris Valco (general manager of the Fur Breeder’s Agricultural Co-op) and Ryan Holt (3,000 mink released from his South Jordan farm in 1996) were among them.

Judge Benson entered the courtroom and the proceeding began.


He started by mentioning he had received numerous letters about the case, both in favor of BJ and against. He began by stating he had received a letter signed by numerous individuals, on the letterhead of an organization with an acronym he could not identify: “FBAC”. We all looked at each other with knowing looks. “FBAC”, most were aware, was “Fur Breeders Agricultural Co-op”, the largest mink feed cooperative in the country.

From the fur farmers, he received letters from Mike Willis (farm unknown, but worth an investigation), T. Matthews (Blackridge Mink Ranch, Hyrum, Utah), and Bryan Boyce (Boyce Mink Ranch, Morgan, Utah). Speaking in BJ’s defense, the judge said he had received letters from BJ’s mother, and BJ himself.

The judge asked the defense to address the court. BJ’s attorney approached the podium. She began by building a case for BJ’s immediate release by presenting the judge with a letter from an employer willing to hire BJ immediately on his release.

She continued by stating it was not her intent to downplay the seriousness of the “crime” of releasing mink, but she wanted the judge to take into account BJ’s character. She stated that when BJ was arrested, he was still deeply “imbibed in the ideology of the Animal Liberation Front”, but since having his bail revoked, he has had a change of attitude. He has disavowed direct action, she stated, and that when he raided the McMullin Mink Farm, he was “young an impressionable”. His time in jail (approx. 5 months) had changed him, she said. She stated he now realized he could be of greater benefit to animals by using legal channels. With that, she closed her statement.


U.S. attorney John Huber approached the podium. He mentioned the victim, Lindsey McMullin, was in the audience. The first item addressed was restitution. Since the last mink-release conviction, the Fur Commission USA had drafted a mink value / restitution chart for judges in mink release cases. The formula (described to me in a simplified way as multiplying the pelt value of every mink by three to five times) put the restitution amount for the approximately 650 released mink (all but 50 alleged to be recaptured) at $66,753.

He continued that while he was abiding by the terms of the plea agreement and recommending the low end of the guidelines, there were things he wished the judge to keep in mind before issuing his sentence. Since 2004, federal sentencing guidelines have been discretionary, and the judges are no longer bound by them. It was evident the prosecutor was angling for an upward departure.

It was at this point the shift occurred. Animal abusers who cannot rely on the merits of their argument, or don’t have a solid one, assign sinister motives to animal liberations as a desperate move to distract from the cruelty they are responsible for, and demonize liberators. It was clear it was the intention of the prosecution not to argue “misdirected compassion”, but to assign a motive of “terror” and “intimidation” to the release of animals into their native habitat.

Huber asked the judge to consider the crime from the victim’s perspective. The mink release “had a great impact on Lindsey McMullin, and the whole mink ranching industry.” While the statute classified it as a property crime, “property crime”, he said, “does not capture the seriousness of this offense”. Huber asserted the crime was “designed to intimidate and instill fear”.

The prosecutor asked if could use the projector, and referred the judge to a large screen beside the bench. The first slide, taken the morning after the raid, was of a mink shed at the McMullin Fur Farm. On the mink shed, in red ink, were the words: “We are watching” and “A.L.F.”.

The next slides were screen shots from websites, primarily the North American Animal Liberation Press Office site. Images of various arsons were depicted. While the A.L.F., he said, claimed to be a non-hierarchal group with no structure or leadership, he argued this was false. “They have handbooks, they have manuals, and they have websites”. Either deliberately or ignorantly, the prosecution failed to delineate between the A.L.F. and supporters of the A.L.F., referring to every website and group he mentioned as run by the A.L.F. An error tantamount to confusing every Christian for Jesus himself.

While no communiqué was ever made public for the McMullin action, the prosecutor alleged an email was sent (and apparently intercepted) to the North American Animal Liberation Press Office in the wake of the release.
Next, he mentioned BJ and his codefendant Alex Hall (trial scheduled for November 7th) had been seen near the Blackridge Fur Farm in Hyrum at 4am one night in late-2008. The two were then charged with a misdemeanor for attempting to “disrupt” the farm. BJ had this charge dropped per his plea bargain, while the charge against Alex remains. Because two mink releases had occurred in Utah in the past two months during the fall of 2008, the farmer had taken to sitting up in her pickup truck overnight, watching the farm. During one of these watchdog sessions, the farmer alleged to have seen BJ and Alex in a car near the farm, wrote down the vehicle’s license plate number, and called police.

Mink raids, the prosecutor stated, had a “ripple effect”, placing farmers in “alarm mode”. “The whole industry was held hostage,” he stated.

Huber asked the judge to be mindful that his sentence would have a much broader impact on the industry. “Everyone is listening to what you’re doing”, he said. He requested BJ not be released that day, because “a message must be made”.

The next slide was a snapshot from BJ’s Myspace page, showing the full text of a communiqué from a mink release at the Ylipelto’s Fur Farm in Astoria, Oregon, in 2008. To illustrate the “intimidation” motive of the A.L.F., the prosecutor read the text of the communiqué, ending with the line “get out before you are forced out”.

He ended by continuing to insinuate BJ and Alex were responsible for another mink release they have not been charged with: the release of 7,000 mink from the Lodder Fur Farm in Kaysville in 2008. He alleged the two were stopped by police near the farm in the weeks before the raid. Police officers searched their car and found gloves, ski masks, and black clothing. The prosecutor mentioned this case was still very much under investigation.

He then asked if mink farmer Lindsey McMullin could make a statement.

A man emerged from the audience and approached the podium. McMullin began by thanking the FBI for their work on the case. Before finishing his second sentence, he began to go give the appearance of being “choked up”, asking the judge to forgive him while he composed himself. This was accompanied with further embellished sighs and tears.

He gathered himself and went on to state the farm had been in his family for “over 100 years” (though it is unlikely the family has raised mink this long), and that he was a third generation mink farmer. He prided himself in raising “the finest animals humanely”. Mr. McMullin also stated he was a high school teacher.

A wave of emotive language followed. He described the “feeling of violation” and “emptiness” after the release, and waking up that morning to see hundreds of mink running through his yard. He was grateful only 650 (one shed) of the farm’s 4,000 mink were freed.

He described first seeing the Animal Liberation Front graffiti on the mink shed, saying it was then “my feelings changed to anger and fear”. With long, dramatic pauses, he described the expression on his children’s face when they saw the graffiti reading “We are watching”. Fighting through tears, he described how, to this day, his daughter was afraid to go near the door of that shed.

“Mr. Viehl”, he said, turning to BJ, “I hope when you have a family that you never have to answer to them when they ask you ‘Daddy, are they watching us today?’”

He stated that all but 50 of the mink were recovered. However, because breeding records were destroyed, most future profits from every released mink were lost.

“The entire industry is affected by the Animal Liberation Front,” he said. “Their sole purpose is intimidation”. He quoted one mink rancher as saying it as though he is being “held hostage” by fear of A.L.F. raids.

There were other victims, he said, that so far had gone unmentioned. The victims were “all the mink that died”. “I feel [Mr. Viehl] should be charged with an animal abuse charge’.

His attempt to paint himself as emotionally distraught over the death over the “cruelty” of releasing mink must rank among history’s more obscene moments of courtroom theater – coming from a man who kills mink for a living. Mr. McMullin failed to mention every mink on his farm were to be killed three months after their release, by McMullin’s own hands.

The judge asked McMullin two questions.

The first: “Mr. McMullin, where do mink live? Are there mink in the wild?”

McMullin answered: “Mink are indigenous to the U.S.”, and proceeded to talk about wild mink populations in Utah, that his brother grew up trapping mink in Utah, and reiterated that mink were a native species.

Next: “What are these groups complaint with fur? What are they against?”

McMullin answered that it was not merely fur “these groups” were against, but all animal agriculture. “But why mink?” the judge asked. He responded that it wasn’t just about the fur; it was the use of all animals for human benefit.

Having told the first truths of his testimony, McMullin took a seat.

The judge then asked BJ if he had a statement. BJ – shackled at the hands and feet, in a striped jail uniform – approached the podium.

I feel it is important to stress here that an activist’s primary goal in the courtroom is to get back on the street to fight for animals. While I chose a different path than BJ when asked to address a judge, I find any courtroom statement to be wholly symbolic. And what BJ did at the McMulllin farm was in antithetical to symbolism – it was about a practical approach to an urgent problem. It was about the power of action over the symbolism of words. And the only role symbolic statements have in remedying the evils of the world is in the absence of any other option. That day, BJ had the option of using words that will ultimately achieve the desired result of his own freedom. I stand by the decision of anyone to say anything in court (short of implicating others). Because in the fight for animal liberation, words, very truly, mean nothing.


BJ turned to McMullin. He told him he apologized, and that he no longer had anything to fear. After a short statement, he sat down.

All parties having weighed in, it came time for the judge’s sentence.

He began by stating “I do a lot of sentencings, and this case is much more complicated for me than other crimes”. He then addressed what he called “the bigger picture”.

“Mink ranchers are terrorized by the people in the Animal Liberation Front” he said. “And I have a hard time seeing how this doesn’t fit the category of ‘terror’”. He stated that on 9-11, terrorists inflicted fear on an entire nation by bringing down the World Trade Center, and that was also the result of BJ releasing animals. “It was the same kind of fear,” he said.

He stated his history of approaching all sentencings of defendants who have no criminal record with lenience. He told BJ it seemed that he had changed, and while he appreciated his statement to the court, he can’t ignore that the sentence he imposes must be a deterrent to others in the future. I think we all sensed a shift in his tone, but didn’t anticipate something as unexpected as his next statements.

Given what I know “there is too much threat and terror, and I am inclined to go well above the guidelines”. The sentence must be a deterrent he said. For the sentence to be a deterrent, he must go above the recommended 6 months. He said to create a deterrent; he must go over 2 years. With these words, he expressed his intent to more than quadruple BJ’s recommended sentence.

He said that before entering the courtroom that day, he had not been aware the guidelines call for a sentence as low as 6 months. He stated he did not feel the sentence matched the severity of the crime, and that to do so he
must issue a sentence of over one year, and that he was inclined to sentence him to over two years.

He then began to build a circumstantial case against BJ and Alex as being guilty of much more than the McMullin farm raid. He mentioned they had been “chased” from a farm in Hyrum, and that it appeared their presence indicated they “were up to no good”. He also mentioned the two had been stopped near the Lodder mink farm weeks before 7,000 mink were released there in the fall of 2008. “This shows a connection,” the judge said, and that he can’t ignore they have been seen near other farms. “The picture is bigger than this”.

He stated he would allow the defense two weeks to prepare an argument against throwing out the plea bargain, but ended with - “I’m inclined to go well above the guidelines”.

The sentencing was set over for December 11th at 3:30.

No one foresaw this outcome. It was expected by most BJ would serve no more than one additional month, while the judge expressed every intention of sentencing him to an additional 18 months or more. We all left in silence.

We were fortunate to do interviews with three newspapers and a TV station, explaining that the message that was lost today was that BJ’s actions were motivated by compassion, and not “intimidation” as asserted by the fur farmers, prosecutor, and judge. We also explained the true “terrorism” is what McMullin does for a living – murdering several thousand mink each year.

We found Lindsey McMullin and neighboring South Jordan fur farmer Bryan Holt (his farm was raided in 1996), among others, outside. He refused our invitation to a debate in front of the news station camera crew. Our parting words to McMullin came in front of the media and fur farmers. I locked him into eye contact, and told him what every person present with a conscience felt – “You’re a disgrace”.

It was a day of little to celebrate except the 50 mink still living as fugitives in South Jordan – and people like BJ for making animal liberation a reality.

We will be back on December 11th.

-Peter Young

It will not return to business as usual for fur farmers in Utah. In two weeks we will be taking the fight to the belly of the beast, and converging on the mink farm capital of the U.S. – nearby Morgan, Utah, for Fur Free Saturday (Nov. 28th). Our march that day will be dedicated to BJ and Alex, and all animals murdered on fur farms (and in slaughterhouses, labs, and everywhere) each day. It is our duty when any activist is imprisoned to pick up the slack for them threefold. Those from across the country wishing to join us on November 28th, visit www.furfreeutah.com.

For more info on BJ & Alex, please visit www.supportbjandalex.com.

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Earth Liberation Prisoners Support Network
BM Box 2407
London
WC1N 3XX
England
www.spiritoffreedom.org.uk

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