8 October 2018
“Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist”:
Grand Jury Resistance in Response to Political Repression
Since the time of the Red Scare and the dawn of McCarthyism, there has been institutional and cultural backlash against any form of radical political activism that poses a threat to the “American” way of life. In order to keep these threats at bay, the FBI utilizes the federal grand jury system and witch hunt like trials to intimidate and indict political activists. This practice is by no means a new method of political repression; in the 1950s individuals were discouraged, by means of social control, from being too outspoken on their political beliefs. For fear of being mistaken for Communists, hell bent on dismantling the very fabric of America, a large majority of individuals were prompted to bite their tongues on current issues. No less than a decade after the McCarthy trials came to an end, the FBI began to employ the use of grand juries to subdue members of the Black Panther Party, sometime after that they directed their efforts to environmental activists, and presently their focus has been set upon individuals who align themselves with Anarchism.
In recent years the FBI has conducted raids and arrests on anarchists, forcing themselves into their homes in the late hours of the night, with their assault rifles aimed at their sleeping bodies. In many instances, these violent seizures of anarchist homes result in the confiscation of one of the most dangerous weapons that threatens a totalitarian state; literature. In response to vandalism that occurred during a 2012 May Day protest in Seattle, subpoenas to grand juries were distributed to anarchists in nearby cities; regardless of whether or not there was evidence to place these individuals in Seattle at the time of the protests and the vandalism. During a raid of one Anarchist’s home in Portland, OR, police searched for “black clothing and anarchist reading materials” (Gardiner, 2013). It is also to be noted that these subpoenas were officially ordered two days before the May Day protests had even occurred. The anarchists refused to testify in front of the grand juries, calling the situation a “fishing expedition”; this decision ultimately resulted in their imprisonment, each facing up to eighteen months in jail without being charged with or having committed a crime.
Two of the anarchists subpoenaed in the Pacific North West, Matthew Duran and Katherine “Kteeo” Olejnik, both spent five months in jail for civil contempt when they refused to testify in front of a grand jury; two months of which they were isolated from other inmates and the outside world, a mere hour per month allotted for phone calls, and subjugation to twenty-three hours a day in solitary confinement (Gardiner, 2013). According to the court release order granting Duran and Olejnik their freedom, Judge Richard A. Jones concluded that, “…there is no substantial likelihood that continued confinement would coerce Ms. Oljenik or Mr. Duran to testify” (Jones, 2013). Prosecutors use the grand jury to “fish” for information, regardless of the individual’s guilt or association with the crime, and if they refuse to testify the prosecution uses imprisonment and solitary confinement as a way to coerce them into subordination. Judge Jones provides further examination of Duran and Olejnik’s imprisonment in their release order, “Their physical health has deteriorated sharply, and their mental health has also suffered from the effects of solitary confinement. Their confinement has cost them; they have suffered the loss of jobs, income, and important personal relationships” (Jones, 2013). With lack of evidence against Duran and Olejnik, it is apparent that the FBI has targeted them based on their political affiliations and ideology. The act of resisting these grand jury subpoenas was an act of defiance against the persecution of individuals based solely on their beliefs.
A grand jury operates differently than trial jury which is more often the standard court of law depicted in the United States; it is operated and run entirely by the prosecution and is often conducted in a very secretive manner. The accused is often not granted an attorney and the prosecution decides what evidence to present to the jurors, leaving little room for them to defend themselves. A grand jury does not prove the guilt of the defendant, it merely decides whether there is probable cause to indict them. It is agreed upon by most scholars that the beginnings of the current manifestation of the grand jury system dates back to England during the rule of Henry II; his highness using it in an effort to control the power and money of the church, rather than as a means to protect the interests of his subjects (Deutsch 1163). As white Europeans crossed the Atlantic to the “New World” along with them followed the grand jury system.
Since the release of Duran and Olejnik in 2013, the grand jury system continues to be used to intimidate and imprison anarchists, in order to gather information for the state. In July of 2017, social worker and former elementary school teacher Katie Yow, an anarchist from North Carolina, was subpoenaed to a federal grand jury in relation to a local GOP headquarters bombing; a crime in which Yow had no knowledge of or involvement in (NC Resists the Grand Jury). This continued misuse of power has illustrated a dangerous narrative where the FBI can target individuals based on their personal belief systems in leu of evidence or probable cause. Resisting these subpoenas returns power to those caught in the middle of this exploitative system, in hopes that their resistance can stop this cycle of social control.
Deutsch, Michael E. “The Improper Use of the Federal Grand Jury: An Instrument for the Internment of Political Activists.” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-), vol. 75, no. 4, 1984, pp. 1159–1196. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1143382.
Gardiner, Kat. “Olympia’s Grand Jury Resistors Speak.” Vice, 16 Apr. 2013, www.vice.com/en_us/article/5gwv7a/olympias-grand-jury-resistors-speak.
Jones, Richard A. “United States District Court Western District of Washington at Seattle.” The Stranger, 2013, www.thestranger.com/images/blogimages/2013/02/27/1362013554-order_granting_release-1.pdf.
“NC Resists the Grand Jury.” NC Resists the Grand Jury, ncresiststhegrandjury.com/. Accessed 8 Oct. 2018.
Ramshackle Glory. “Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist.” Bandcamp, ramshackleglory.bandcamp.com