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.

McGowan can't associate with environmental or animal-rights groups.
Courtesy Jenny Synan
McGowan can't associate with environmental or animal-rights groups.

"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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