Daniel McGowan is an American environmental activist who was arrested and charged in federal court on multiple counts of arson and conspiracy, relating to the arson of Superior Lumber company in Glendale, Oregon on January 2, 2001 and Jefferson Poplar Farms in Clatskanie, Oregon on May 21, 2001 claimed by the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). McGowan was facing a minimum of life in prison if convicted when he accepted a non-cooperation plea agreement, pleading guilty on November 9, 2006. His arrest is part of what the US government has dubbed Operation Backfire.
New York native McGowan has worked on many activist issues including military counter-recruitment, demonstrations against the Republican National Convention, the Really Really Free Market, and the support of prisoners such as Jeff Luers and others. McGowan was a graduate student earning a Master's degree in acupuncture and was an employee of Women's Law, a nonprofit group that helps women in domestic abuse situations navigate the legal system.
Arrest and Operation BackfireEdit
- Main article: Operation Backfire (FBI)
On December 7, 2005, one of the largest arrests of environmental activists in American history began. Using the code name Operation Backfire, the FBI arrested six people. Chelsea Gerlach, William Rodgers, Kendall Tankersley, Kevin Tubbs, Daniel McGowan and Stanislas Meyerhoff were arrested for allegedly taking part in a wide variety of violent crimes, including arson and domestic terrorism.
Stanislas Meyerhoff agreed to be a federal cooperating witness almost immediately upon arrest and interrogation. On December 22, William "Avalon" Rodgers was found dead in his cell in Flagstaff, Arizona, from an apparent suicide.
At first, those arrested were indicted separately with certain individuals facing numerous trials for each separate alleged incident. On January 20, federal prosecutors, the head of the FBI, and US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales held a press conference announcing a sweeping 65-count indictment, including two conspiracy charges, against 11 individuals relating to 17 different incidents in Oregon, Washington and California. In addition to the six people arrested on December 7, the Oregon indictment also named Jonathan Paul, Suzanne Savoie, Joseph Dibee, Rebecca Rubin and Josephine Overaker.
The Oregon indictment charged certain defendants with arson, attempted arson, and using and carrying a destructive device. The destructive device charge, 18 USC 924(c), carries a 30-year mandatory sentence and a life sentence for a second conviction of the charge.
On June 28, the government arraigned Nathan Block, Joyanna Zacher, Daniel and Jonathan Paul on a new 65-count superseding indictment. All four pled not guilty.
Criticism of prosecutionEdit
McGowan had originally been indicted separately, but his arrest comes in the context of a well-coordinated, multi-state sweep of numerous activists by the federal government, who have charged the individuals with practically every earth and animal liberation case left unsolved in the Northwest. Many of the charges, including McGowan's, are for cases whose statute of limitations were about to expire.
McGowan's case has been considered to be part of the US government's 'Green Scare': a term alluding to the Red Scare of the 1940s-50s, and an expression used by environmental activists to refer to action taken by the U.S. government against the radical environmentalist movement. The name the federal government has given to this case is Operation Backfire and to date, over 15 activists have been arrested and indicted.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that the "Operation Backfire" indictments have elicited concern, from activists, that authorities have "cracked the super-secrecy of ALF and ELF". Alternative media organizations have condemned the arrests, some calling them a "witch hunt", "aimed at disrupting and discrediting political movements". Activists, maintaining the Red Scare allusion, claim the operations are "fishing expedition[s]" carried out "in the midst of 9/11 McCarthyism. The FBI disputes these claims, Director Robert Mueller claiming the agency takes action "only when volatile talk crosses the line into violence and criminal activity".
Template:Unreferencedsection On November 9, 2006, McGowan and co-defendants Jonathan Paul, Joyanna Zacher and Nathan Block pled guilty and signed a non-cooperation plea agreement with the government. This agreement does not require cooperation (informing on others) on the part of the defendants.
Zacher and Block each pled to one count of conspiracy, attempted arson, and two separate incidents of arson. McGowan pled to conspiracy and to two separate incidents of arson. The government recommended that they be sentenced to 96 months in federal prison. Paul pled to one count of arson and one count of conspiracy. The government recommended Paul be sentenced to 60 months in prison. All four defendants are free to argue for a lesser sentence.
Federal prosecutors have asked the court to apply a "terrorism enhancement" at sentencing. The defendants could face up to 20 years in prison in addition to the terms of the plea agreement. The government is seeking the "terrorism enhancement" despite the fact that the crimes to which they have admitted responsibility only involve the destruction of private property; no government property was damaged in any of the incidents.
On June 4, 2007, Daniel McGowan was sentenced to 7 years in federal prison at a location to be determined. U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken presided over the sentencing, which took place at Oregon Federal Court in Eugene, Oregon.  Judge Aiken applied a "terrorism enhancement" to the sentence, and McGowan was also ordered to pay $1.9 million in restitution. 
- Department of Justice press release of the arrest
- McGowan's plea agreement
- Civil Liberties Defense Center
- Green is the new Red
- FBI's Operation Backfire
- Eugene Weekly: Who are the real terrorists?
- Operational Backfire - Criminalizing Dissent by Michael Donnelly
- Crying Terrorist by Patt Morrison, Los Angeles Times
- Government Charges Local Man As Eco-Terrorist in Brooklyn Rail
- Four guilty in wave of eco-sabotage by Bryan Denson, The Oregonian, November 10, 2006
- Four more guilty in string of arsons by Bill Bishop and David Steves, Register Guard, November 10, 2006
- Support site for Daniel McGowan
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