A petition by Friends of the RNC 8 has been put together calling for the Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner to drop all the charges against the RNC 8. Defend The RNC8! Dismiss the Charges! : http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/defendthernc8
The goal is 100,000 signatures. Please take a moment to sign the petition. Then help get the word out by forwarding the petition to friends and family.
For updates on the case visit: http://rnc8.org . To get automatic email updates, sign up here: http://rnc8.org/get-updates/
The legal costs for the RNC 8 are estimated at $250,000. Donations can be made via PayPal or you can mail in a check (there is even a tax deductible option). All the information you need is at: http://rnc8.org/donations/ Donations of all sizes are greatly appreciated.
At times, they laugh at how ridiculous it seems.
But Monica Bicking and Garrett Fitzgerald weren’t laughing when police broke down the door of their South Minneapolis house before 8 a.m. Aug. 30, stormed inside and pointed guns in their faces.
“I was woken up out of a deep sleep to screaming and banging,” Bicking said. “It’s scary.”
Max Specktor was not there when police came to his house two miles away. But he was arrested two days later, on Sept. 1. “I was leaving in a car, and they pulled the car over right away,” he said.
Bicking, Fitzgerald and Specktor are three of eight young Minneapolis residents charged in Ramsey County with conspiracy to commit riot “in furtherance of terrorism,” allegedly to disrupt last month’s Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
The unusual charge stems from a 2002 Minnesota terrorism law, a version of the federal Patriot Act passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“These charges are an effort to equate publicly stated plans to blockade traffic and disrupt the RNC as being the same as acts of terrorism,” said Bruce Nestor, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild who is representing Bicking, in a recent statement.
The Ramsey County sheriff’s office spent a year investigating an anarchist group called the RNC Welcoming Committee, which pledged on its Web site to “Crash the Convention” and encouraged activists to prevent delegates from getting to the Xcel Energy Center.
Sheriff Bob Fletcher said the group planned to “both shut down the Republican National Convention and actually harm the officers that (were) working this convention.”
When the sheriff’s office, assisted by other local agencies and the FBI, searched the homes of Bicking, Specktor and others, they found what Fletcher described as buckets of urine to throw at officers, homemade devices to puncture bus tires and maps with routes designated for blocking.
The three defendants who spoke to the Pioneer Press this week said they were not involved in violent activity, and, with the exception of a civil disobedience conviction for Specktor, they have no criminal history. At a coffee shop on Selby Avenue in St. Paul, they described their backgrounds and their motivation for becoming involved in the Welcoming Committee.
Bicking, 23, owns the home at 3240 17th Ave. S. that was raided. She bought it with inheritance money and has lived there with Fitzgerald and her boyfriend, Erin Trimmer, since July. It’s about five blocks from where she grew up.
She remembers going to protest marches with her parents from the time she was in a stroller. After high school, she moved to Chicago and worked for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group that focuses on peace and social justice issues. She organized and participated in anti-war marches, but she felt they were not putting her skills to best use.
“These marches — so many people were going out and the war was still happening,” she said.
Bicking took part in a get-out-the-vote effort in Ohio for Democrat John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign. She canvassed low-income and minority neighborhoods, where people weren’t shy about expressing their skepticism.
“And I couldn’t honestly give them an answer that Kerry would change their situation anyway,” she said. “I started to look at different types of projects, smaller, community-building projects that at least affect someone.”
The idea of working with non-hierarchical groups run by consensus also appealed to Bicking. When she came upon the Welcoming Committee during an Internet search, she saw it as a “great fit.”
But the part-time nanny didn’t expect it to lead to a raid on her house.
“I was on the landing of the stairs when they reached me, and they had their guns pulled out at me and had them pointed at my head and told me to lie down,” Bicking said. “I’ve never had a gun pointed at me before, and everything felt like slow motion. It’s like, ‘I’m lying down. Why are they still pointing a gun?’ ”
Her neighbors got the news to her parents. The neighbors’ support made her feel “like I do live here for a reason — people are really great.”
She scoffs at the idea that she was doing anything violent or in support of violence.
“This case is political. It’s about them criminalizing free speech and thought,” she said. “They want to put us on trial with people we’re not associated with.”
Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said, without addressing specifics of the case, “This is in no way an effort to get at dissent and free speech. This is an effort to get at violent and destructive behavior.”
Gaertner said that, to her knowledge, it’s the first time the Minnesota law against “crimes committed in furtherance of terrorism” has been used. Though the complaint says the defendants face up to five years in prison, Gaertner said they are likely to face no more than a year in jail, if that.
Still dressed in a jacket and tie from court, University of Minnesota cultural studies student Specktor took off his fedora and nursed a mocha while describing his path to the Welcoming Committee.
The Iraq war began when he was in the eighth grade, and Specktor, 19, became passionate about organizing student walk-outs against the war and opposing military recruitment on campus. After high school, he worked on things he saw as “more concrete,” including giving out meals through Food Not Bombs at the Jack Pine Community Center in Minneapolis. He later worked with Friends for a NonViolent World.
Like Bicking, the Minneapolis native came from a left-leaning family. His mother worked in theater. His father is editor of American Jewish World magazine in Minneapolis.
Though opposed to the war, Specktor said that wasn’t why he joined the Welcoming Committee: He liked the idea of organizing the community and believed the committee could support other activists.
“I wanted to facilitate protests so that people could protest whatever they wanted, protest the war, protest the environmental destruction — that’s kind of how I saw my organizing role,” he said.
Mankato native and day care worker Fitzgerald, 25, described his goal as much the same as Specktor’s.
The Welcoming Committee “was a consensus-based operation,” and how people came together was more important than the outcome, he said.
“There’s a lot of reasons to be upset about the RNC coming to town,” he said of the Republicans. “So I sort of was hoping I could work to facilitate making space for other people to get their message out. That I was going to support community.”
His efforts came at no small price. The time in jail — from his arrest Aug. 30 until his release Sept. 4 — was interrupted only by two breaks of 20 minutes per day.
“I could read my lawyer’s card over and over again,” he said. “I could sleep as much as possible and eat their white-bread, peanut-butter sandwiches.”
His politically moderate parents, who work as teachers, have been supportive of his activism — as they were when he decided to get an unlikely-to-be-lucrative theater degree at the U, he said.
“My mom is always saying I have a good heart and she trusts me to make good decisions,” he said.
Much of the criminal complaint against the eight defendants describes the Welcoming Committee’s activities as a group.
But specifically, it alleges Specktor told a confidential informant that he built homemade explosives out of fireworks and duct tape and repeatedly talked about his interest in explosives for use at the RNC.
Informants also alleged Bicking traveled to Washington state and explained to a group there that the goal of the Welcoming Committee was to blockade the streets, and urged others to join in. At her house, police found caltrops, or devices used to puncture tires.
Fitzgerald was “present during a workshop” where the idea of kidnapping delegates was discussed, according to the complaint.
The allegations, according to attorney Nestor, are based on reports by confidential informants who were paid on the basis of the value of their information and had “a clear incentive to lie.”
According to Nestor, the last time such charges were brought under Minnesota law was in 1918, when those organizing labor unions for the Industrial Workers of the World on the Iron Range were charged with “criminal syndicalism.” The resulting convictions, based on allegations that workers had advocated or taught acts of violence, were upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court.
The other defendants facing the conspiracy charge are Trimmer, 23; Erik Oseland, 21; Robert Czernik, 33; Nathanael Secor, 26; and Luce Guillen-Givins, 24.
“The Sheriff’s Department put this label on us as terrorists,” Specktor said. But the allegations were “what they feared was going to happen. It was what their worst imaginations told them would happen.”
Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522.