Report from Puget Sound Prisoner Support on recent FBI harassment and indictment against a Washington state activist. Originally posted to Puget Sound Anarchists.
Puget Sound Prisoner Support issues this notice regarding a Washington state based activist who was recently indicted for Interstate Riot at the federal level from a Portland April 2021 arrest. This case is important for the broader Pacific Northwest abolitionist community because it highlights several issues of state repression and security culture that remain timelessly pertinent.
K was first alerted to the FBI’s intention to contact them when an ex-partner told them that an FBI agent had called and asked for K’s current contact information and address in early February 2023. Days later, K received a voicemail from someone claiming to be a Seattle FBI agent and wishing to return K’s cellphone that had been seized by authorities during an arrest at a Portland protest in April 2021. K then made the correct decision to reach out to local anti-repression collective Puget Sound Prisoner Support, and we advised them to immediately call the National Lawyer’s Guild federal defense hotline. Through a lawyer with the NLG contacting the FBI, K learned that it was actually a Portland FBI agent, and that K’s state level charge from their Portland arrest had been upgraded to a federal level charge and there was a warrant out for their arrest.
After K’s initial arrest in Portland, charges were not filed and they were told that the state of Oregon would not be pressing charges at that time. Hearing that there are no charges filed can often lead to a sense of security that you have avoided state repression. Unfortunately, the state has many methods and tactics it can use to repress your activities and stop political movements. This is why we stress the importance of Security Culture before, during and after your arrest. Charges can be re-filed, other charges can be brought, and state level charges can be handed to the feds for prosecution. The metric for meeting the requirements for a charge to be handled at the federal level has proven to be shockingly low. As many of the cases from the 2020 Uprising have shown, this can be as trivial as simply involving interstate commerce, but this case specifically regards allegedly crossing state lines to participate in a riot.
The important takeaway is that after an arrest, it is not useful to assume that a possible charge isn’t coming until you have been given an indication that those specific charges are no longer being investigated. Sometimes this means dismissal of a charge (and here, there are more than one kind) or the statute of limitations for the alleged crime has passed (and even here there are ways in which the state can move around those limitations), although the statue of limitations is difficult to pin down for any alleged crime due to jurisdictional overlap. With this in mind, it is important that strong Security Culture remains a thing we participate in for life, not just the protest/demonstration. Every interaction with law enforcement is the opening of the possibility of future repression, and for this reason a part of security culture practice is taking that reality seriously. Additionally, you can make Signal encrypted messaging a habit for all your text communication because we never know what texts may be of interest to the authorities. While Signal is by no means foolproof, in many cases using Signal with disappearing messages can decrease what texts the police have access to if they do get access to your phone.
When K was arrested in Portland, they were in possession of their cell phone, which was seized by the Portland police, and has been in police custody ever since. Despite having a lockscreen, either state or federal police were able to gain access to the text messages on K’s phone, and several of those text messages are being used to incriminate K. This is worth highlighting as it serves as a reminder that bringing your cell phone to a protest creates the risk of losing it to police custody, endangering yourself and others. It’s important to never discuss movement activity that could be criminalized on electronic devices, as in circumstances above, as it can be used against you and your community in the case of your arrest or detention.
A strong security culture doesn’t mean just one person knows the right things to say and the right things to *not* say, but that everyone in our organizing circles feels comfortable to remind each other when security culture practices aren’t being followed. It can be as easy as practicing interrupting your friend to say, “Hey, I don’t think it’s a good idea to talk about that right now, that’s not very good security culture.” A strong security culture not only keeps yourself safe(r), but your friends safe(r) as well.
Most importantly, none of us are free until all are free. We will continue to provide support in our capacity to K as they traverse this legal process. We will only escape the threat of state repression against our movements when the state and its prison society is no more.
photo: Dave Newman via Flikr (CC BY 2.0)