On August 2nd, 2012, a large group of people converged on the Federal Courthouse on Stewart Street to support those who were summoned to appear before a Federal Grand Jury* recently convened in Seattle. In the week prior, six people had been subpoenaed by the Grand Jury to answer questions and give testimony regarding unknown subjects. Based on a warrant to search a house in Portland which mentioned “anarchist literature” and “destruction of government property,” many assume that the Grand Jury is investigating the attack on the old Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle during the May Day protests.
In Portland on July 25th, the FBI stormed a house with one of its paramilitary units and seized computers, literature, and other materials before serving one man with a subpoena. On the same day, two other Portland homes were raided, but the intended targets no longer lived there. Elsewhere, the Feds successfully served two subpoenas, one in Olympia and another in Portland. Three other subpoenas have been issued but the Feds have been unsuccessful in their attempts to locate the intended recipients. All of the subpoenants have decided not to cooperate with the Grand Jury and could therefore face federal prison-time for their courageous silence in the face of this latter-day inquisition.
The comparison of the Grand Jury with the Inquisition is not a cheap one, nor will it be used by this author for shock value. The Grand Jury is simply the most recent incarnation of a very old counter-insurgency method. When rebellion becomes a contagion, the authorities use invasive, violent “investigations” to route out, isolate, and eventually punish trouble-makers. The obvious intent is to discipline uncontrollable elements through fear and brutality.
Inquisition tactics are still alive and well six centuries later. Back then, an ecclesiastical court would convene and summon witnesses to deliver testimony, often regarding other people. The purpose of these courts was to sift through the population of a rebellious or “diabolical” town and locate the heret
ics and witches. Once they were discovered, these “evil” people were either imprisoned, hung, or burnt alive.
The Church justified its activities using the language of sin and Christian horror, but the people they tortured and murdered were not the demonically-possessed slaves of Satan. In many cases, these heretics and witches were people who would not submit to the control and submission that the Pope demanded of all who lived within the Empire. They were rebels and vagabonds, wise-women and anarchists.
Val Camonica, at the turn of 16th Century
The town of Val Camonica in Italy had long been a plac
e of paganism
and freedom. The people living in the surrounding area had continued their relatively autonomous way of life bet
ween the days of the Roman Empire and the Church. When the Church began to pass laws in 1498 that forbid mild forms of what it called heresy, it was clear it had begun to move against anyone who did not want to live within the economic and religious system being enforced by Rome. By 1499, most of the population was suspected of having participated in a black mass with the devil during the night.
Six years later, the Inquisition burned one man and seven women it accused of being witches but who were in fact powerful and insubordinate figures in the Val Camonica region. Whether they refused to marry and have children or whether they remembered how to live off the land without money and the economy, these people were seen as a threat to order of the Church. In order to justify burning these people at the stake, the Inquisition told everyone the accused had slept with the devil and caused famine by using magic. These executions in 1505 served to pacify the area for several years in which people lived in fear and suspicion of one another.
It would not be until 1510 that the Inquisition would return to the region in order to control the now drought-stricken area. Because the Empire had forced its subjects to live in towns and discontinue their traditional land-based lifeways, the drought that hit Val Camonica unnerved the rulers of the area and made them fearful of an uprising against the system of governance that kept people chained to the markets and the churches. Only fools or slaves would continue to live in a town and use money when the surrounding area was infertile and barren. To quell the unruly people, the Inquisition convened another court and began summoning people to testify against each other. By the time they were done, the Inquisition had burned dozens of its most feared opponents. However, despite the repression, Val Camonica remained unruly.
The Pacific Northwest, Today
The Grand Jury in Seattle is meant to function in the same manner as the inquisition: locate an insubordinate area in the country, convene a grand jury, summon random people thought to associate with insubordinates, extract testimony from them, and use this information to summon still others, all in the hope of finding some evil ones to punish.
Unfortunately for the sadists in charge, witch-burning is no longer acceptable. Now the Grand Jury can only incarcerate the people whom they wish to coerce into submission. Beyond this, their other methods are to pit people against each other, to encourage them to sell their friends out, and to prove to all who are watching that rebellion will not be tolerated.
The Grand Jury is just as despicable and sadistic as was the Inquisition. The only substantial difference is that if the state now burned a rebel in a public plaza, it is sure that revolt would soon follow. Authority’s tactics change form according to context, and today in the U.S., the state cloaks its deeds and schemes under the guise of democracy and justice. But it could not be more clear that the state’s intentions are to remind everyone that it is ready and willing to destroy lives to protect this disgusting world of money and control. Terror, mistrust, and treachery can flood into this kind of unpredictable environment, extinguishing to ashes every little flicker of rebellious passion. This is the true goal of any witch-hunt. But it doesn’t always work.
Remember that fear and betrayal are the enemies’ greatest allies. Strength, silence, and solidarity are ours.
Do not look to others to tell you what you should do to fight back against the enemy. You will know what to do once you have decided not to die.
*What is a Grand Jury?
In the federal legal system, the grand jury is used to decide whether someone should be charged (“indicted”) for a serious crime. The grand jury hears evidence presented by the prosecutor: the U.S. Attorney. The grand jury uses subpoenas to gather this evidence. It can subpoena documents, physical evidence, and witnesses to testify. Grand juries exist to coerce civilians into providing information about themselves and others to law enforcement and intelligence agencies. They operate in secret; no judges or defense attorneys are present, and neither Constitutional rights nor conventional evidence-gathering protocol apply. Grand juries are frequently used to harass activists and dissidents.
Grand juries basically force witnesses to choose between snitching and serving time. “Cooperation” with the Feds is a euphemism for coercion. If a witness chooses to cooperate with a grand jury but does not answer their questions (by pleading the Fifth or saying “I don’t know”) they are often found in contempt of court, or later charged with perjury. If a witness chooses not to cooperate, they may be found in contempt of court. Snitches are always promised leniency or a reduction of punishment, but this is almost always a lie. Grand jury resisters can be incarcerated for as long as the grand jury is in session, which can be up to eighteen months, with three opportunities for six month extensions.
For more information, check out this list of resources.