Daniel McGowan: The FBI's Least Wanted

He did his time for burning down two Oregon lumber mills, but he's not exactly a free man

"As far as we know, this is a made-up rule applied only to Daniel, in a further attempt to chill his freedom of speech," wrote Rachel Meeropol, McGowan's attorney at the New York–based nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights.

The BOP quietly dropped the matter.

Will Potter is a journalist who has written extensively about environmental activism. He says restrictive parole conditions for activists are becoming more common.

"It reflects the political nature of these prosecutions," Potter says. "And how this terrorism language can follow people long after they leave the courtroom and long after they leave prison. This is something that can follow these activists the rest of their lives."

McGowan should not expect the surveillance to stop when his supervised release ends, Potter emphasizes. "At speaking events we've done with other former prisoners, law enforcement has been there. Sometimes they come in publicly, flashing badges. In FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests later on, I've also gotten information about [undercover] police officers at public events. I just can't imagine what that would be like. It's a constant cloud over you all the time."

For Steve Swanson, McGowan's terrorist designation and the terms of his release seem like justice. Swanson is president and CEO of the Swanson Group, which used to be called Superior Lumber, one of the two companies whose buildings McGowan helped to burn down.

"The definition of terrorism is exactly what they did," Swanson says. "They were trying to change our behavior by inflicting terror on us. It's not different than Islamic terrorists or what the IRA was doing back in the '70s. To say they were nonviolent is just not accurate. We have a total volunteer fire department that responded. Any number of those people could've been killed."

Adds Swanson, "Frankly, we used more wood products to rebuild all those things they burned down."

At his sentencing, McGowan apologized for the fires, saying he felt "deep regret" for frightening the lumber workers. "Although I now know it's hard for people to believe, my intention at the time was to be provocative and make a statement," he told the court. "Not to put individual people in fear."

Swanson says McGowan has never apologized to him directly.

In the meantime, both men have moved on. The Swanson Group tore down the remnants of its old factory and built a larger one. McGowan recently participated in Running Down the Walls, a fundraiser for political prisoner support groups. He figured it was permissible because it had nothing to do with environmental issues.

Still, he says, that April night in jail was jarring: "Sometimes things feel fragile."

A federal judge recently ruled that because McGowan is no longer an inmate, he has no standing to participate in a lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons that challenges the constitutionality of CMUs. Instead, on Tuesday, September 17, he filed a formal complaint against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, alleging that the re-arrest deprived him of his liberty and caused emotional harm.

amerlan@villagevoice.com

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10 comments
Jacksondog
Jacksondog

Priya-I sadly agree with you. Daniel is suffering but is a hero to me, as are many others.I don't really have hope for the earth but one should behave as if one does.




priya.rebelalliance
priya.rebelalliance

The term "eco-terrorist" was invented by the public relations industry in service of the timber corporations in the early 1990s. The purpose was to target activist opposition to the clear cutting logging that was devastating American forests. Once environmental opposition to corporate plunder was successfully demonized in the public mind via an uncritical media, it was easier for earth destructive industries to both distract the public from the actual corporate destruction & terrorism inflicted on our eco systems & secondly it helped sentence activists to way longer & disproportionate prison terms for actions which have never caused harm to human life. If corporate property destruction is such a concern, one must wonder why Americans are not as concerned with the wholesale liquidation of the natural world as it is transformed from paradise to literally an ugly hell on earth. Its unlikely that the public will see or hear much in the media about the eradication of our most beautiful treasures.  However activists like Daniel are acutely aware & painfully sensitive to the disastrous results of unmitigated greed. Many activists have realized the futility of relying on government agencies that are in theory entrusted to protect our natural wonders. Depending on  elected officials to protect the beauty & life most worth protecting was a dead end. They are more concerned with lining their own pockets with funding from corporate lobbies. The are like the pimps that whore America out to the corporations. It is all about money & greed & as Occupy more recently reminded us. For many direct action & non violent civil disobedience is the only option left. Donating to the Sierra Club or writing a letter to Congress is just not going to cut it. As long as property cannot feel pain like humans or animals, non violence is accurate & appropriate for politically motivated acts seeking to discourage harmful environmental practices often hidden from public view. When McGowan was first released I was dismayed to see the Voice use the headline "eco terrorist returns to rockaway" especially in the aftermath of Sandy when most New Yorkers finally realized that the actual terror they really had to fear was a natural environment that had turned on us making normal life impossible as a direct result of human made impacts that literally fueled climate change driven extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy. We can expect more such super storms & life on the coast to change rapidly in the coming years. Activists like Daniel McGowan tried to warn the partying passengers of the Titanic to turn the ship around before it was too late but our society did not listen. Whatever one thinks of McGowans tactics - the message was clear - pay attention to the systematic destruction of your planet. Stop it in whatever way you can. This is our only home & it is irreplaceable unlike the material goods we have come to value instead. As Chief Seattle warned long ago... After the last fish is gone you will find out that money cannot be eaten. The value we place on money is a false fabricated illusion whereas the living earth that sustains all life is not. It's the reality you won't see on your moronic reality shows. Calling attention to the crimes against nature & life makes McGowan & his comrades heroes not terrorists... Unless of course you prefer to believe the logic of the corporate terrorists. 

- Priya - is a filmmaker & writer & organizes the annual NYC Anarchist Film Festival. 

Dothetime
Dothetime

He could refuse parole and return to prison. Remember Bobby Sands, a true political prisoner. Sands died for his cause, he did not get to go to a halfway house near his family. ELF may be a righteous cause, Daniel comes off as a whinny ex hippie in this story.

cybergrace
cybergrace

Daniel McGowan is every one of us who is trying to make a difference in the world today. He was nonviolent, worked hard to ensure his group's actions only harmed property and not people, and did not physically harm anyone. It is ridiculous to call someone whose crimes are only property damage the same word as someone who kills hundreds of people: "a terrorist." 

Michael Fortier, an accomplice in the Oklahoma City bombing, was integral in killing 168 people and physically harming more than 680 others. He is an actual terrorist. But he was released last year after less than ten years in jail. 

George Bush, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell lied about the Iraq government's possession of weapons of mass destruction and created a war that killed well over 100,000 innocent civilian deaths. If that isn't terrorism, what is? 

The U.S. government has increasingly used the designation "terrorist" to describe non-violent activists and protestor, while ignoring actual violent terrorists. That Daniel McGowan could be arrested for merely writing about this obvious phenomenon is outrageous. Courageous activists like Daniel McGowan are standing in the gap between us and fascism. I, among many, are tremendously grateful. Thank you, Daniel McGowan. And the Village Voice and reporter Anna Merlan. We are all a little more free today because of your bravery. 

avman88
avman88

"fear and intimidation to achieve a goal and affect the conduct of government," . Change governemnt to people and this is what the government does to the American people. Our government, nothing but a bunch of terrorist and hypocrites.

criticaleye
criticaleye

Agree with theast74. I'm sure Swanson's not happy about what happened but it's offensive for him to apply the T-word to his own experience. Was he or any of his family members killed or physically harmed in any way? No. There is a big difference.

theast74
theast74

The quote conflating Daniel and the ELF with the IRA is absurd. No disrespect meant to them but the IRA killed British soldiers and informants. The ELF never did this and even the prosecutors conceded that the ELF never physically harmed any of the people involved with the businesses, or any people at all for that matter.

gold
gold

Where did/does ELF get its money?

JosephBowen
JosephBowen

Clearly the ELF gets their money from that liberal scoundrel George Soros. J/K.

How much can the materials cost to destroy some GMO crops, set a fire, or hammer spikes into trees slated to be cut down? That is to say, I doubt they have external funding and probably use money from the jobs they work to fund their actions. Of course, that's just a guess.

Dothetime
Dothetime

Property destruction harms a regions economic viability. Examine the economic disaster confronting Connecticut with Metro North out of service. Imagine if ELF knocked out power because it came from Indian Point? The region would be in Laos.

 
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