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How the FBI Manipulates Grand Juries to Intimidate Political Dissidents and Radicals

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Politics and Democracy page.

From the narrow windows of New York's Metropolitan Correctional Center, 24-year-old anarchist Jerry Koch can see the last place he stood as a free person.

The federal courthouse at 500 Pearl Street is a familiar setting where Koch spent much of his time over the past several years providing legal support to New York activists. During Occupy Wall Street, Koch gained a reputation as the go-to person for help contacting lawyers, raising bail, and organizing supporters to be there when someone had a hearing or was released. This, his supporters say, is why he now has a view of the courthouse from his cell in the federal prison across the street.

Koch's partner, Amanda Clarke, will tell you that all prisoners are political prisoners. Koch, however, fits a more traditional definition of the term. He has not been charged with or convicted of any crime. Legally, his incarceration is not considered punishment, but rather "coercion." He is being held in contempt of court for refusing to testify before a grand jury in what many believe is an effort by the FBI to intimidate other anarchists, and anyone else engaged in political dissent.

Grand juries have been a tool in the FBI's arsenal of intimidation and information-gathering tactics for decades. They were a hallmark of the Red Scare, COINTELPRO, and more recently the Green Scare, in which animal rights activists and environmentalists have been branded "eco-terrorists" by law enforcement.

Over the past year grand juries have seen a resurgence as the FBI has cracked down on radical communities. Koch's case was preceded by a high-profile grand jury in the Pacific Northwest, where four people from Washington and Oregon were imprisoned for refusing to testify.

Will Potter, author of Green Is the New Red, a historical survey of the Green Scare, says there are parallels between these recent grand juries and past FBI interference in social movements. But these cases also mark what he views as a change in tactics on the part of law enforcement. 


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