“My convictions are unwavering and will not be shaken by their harassment. Today is October 10th, 2012 and I am ready to go to prison,” declared Leah Plante, in a statement issued before going to jail.
Plante was imprisoned at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center in Seattle on October 11 for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury. She entered a jail cell knowing she could be imprisoned until March 2014. But, she was resolute and chose to resist because talking to the grand jury would mean succumbing to fear and isolation. It would mean enabling the targeting of people in society for their political beliefs.
In the final week of July, the FBI raided homes in Portland, Oregon, and issued grand jury subpoenas to activists in Portland and Olympia and Seattle in Washington.
Plante eloquently described what happened in her statement:
On the morning of July 25th, 2012, my life was turned upside down in a matter of hours. FBI agents from around Washington and Oregon and Joint Terrorism Task Force agents from Washington busted down the front door of my house with a battering ram, handcuffed my house mates and me at gunpoint, and held us hostage in our backyard while they read us a search warrant and ransacked our home. They said it was in connection to May Day vandalism that occurred in Seattle, Washington earlier this year. However, we suspected that this was not really about broken windows. As if they had taken pointers from Orwell’s 1984, they took books, artwork and other various literature as “evidence” as well as many other personal belongings even though they seemed to know that nobody there was even in Seattle on May Day…
The raid came just over two weeks after Occupy Seattle organizers had been raided. In both raids, the FBI took books and the seizure of books was a result of the FBI’s interest in “anarchist literature.” It indicated the FBI was not interested in simply prosecuting those responsible for vandalism on May Day. The FBI was interested in casting a wide net to investigate anarchists and target them for their beliefs.
This suspicion was soon confirmed. A Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Lauren Regan, an attorney with the Civil Liberties Defense Center, uncovered a document showing the grand jury had been empaneled on March 2, 2012, two months before May Day and any property damage occurred.
On July 25, Plante was not one of the people subpoenaed, however, on August 2, she was issued a grand jury subpoena, along with another person, Dennison Williams. They made a statement that they would not be talking to the grand jury:
We are releasing this statement to make clear our intention to resist the grand jury. We will not co-operate with their investigation. If we appear before the grand jury, we will not answer any questions other than our names. If we are asked additional questions, we will invoke our First, Fourth,and Fifth Amendment rights. Under no circumstances will we talk about other people.
This grand jury is a tool of political repression. It is attempting to turn individuals against each other by coercing those subpoenaed to testify against their communities. The secret nature of grand jury proceedings creates mistrust and can undermine solidarity. And imprisoning us takes us from our loved ones and our responsibilities.
But our passion for freedom is stronger than the state’s prisons. Our refusal to cooperate with the grand jury is a reflection of our own desires for a liberated world and our support for others who are working to bring that world into being. We support the efforts of all those who will be resisting this grand jury.
Plante refused to testify and was re-subpoenaed for August 30. Then, the date was pushed to September 13. On September 13, she was granted immunity and, as she said in her statement, she lost her right to remain silent and could now be thrown in jail for civil contempt.
She was not jailed then because of how long it took for Plante to consult with an attorney and an hour-long recess. She was dismissed and received a fourth subpoena ordering her to appear before the grand jury on October 10. She would face a contempt hearing and likely be jailed if she did not talk.
A short biography on a support website, “Free Leah,” where her writings from prison will be appearing, says Plante is a twenty-four year-old anarchist. She identifies as a queer, vegan and straight edge, which is a punk subculture of that refrains from alcohol, tobacco or recreational drug use (meaning FBI agents would have a tough time fitting her up with drug charges, if they chose to go that route in their political persecution of her).
She is “genuine, compassionate and someone who stands out in a crowd as a fun and outgoing individual.” She is a screen printer, graphic designer, web designer and bicycle mechanic. She likes to look at pictures of space and cats. She enjoys rare anarcho-punk records. She likes to play the Magic: The Gathering card game. And, she regularly looks forward to bike riding, seeing friends and loved ones, “eating burritos and going on epic adventures.”
Contrary to what the FBI might think about anarchists, Plante does not seem like someone “seeking an ideology” to justify activities, unless people who play a game nerds are known to play often seek out anarchism to justify their love for a game involving wizards. It also does not seem like Plante is an individual, who would “turn to criminal activity out of frustration,” unless the FBI thinks anarchists who go on epic adventures and enjoy burritos are engaging in “criminal activity.”
Plante stated in the months before her October 10 court date, she had been having experiences that were causing bouts of depression and effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which she had struggled with for years:
…For a while after the raid, I was in a constant state of panic and I could barely eat. Every time someone knocked on the door, every time I heard any sort of loud sound in my house, my heart sank and I thought ,“They’ve come for me.” To the day of this writing, I haven’t slept a full night since that cold July morning thanks to nausea inducing anxiety that wakes me up between 4:00 and 7:00 every single morning. After a couple months, the initial panic has faded into grim acceptance…
Plante has a tattoo on her arm that reads, “Strive to Survive Causing Least Suffering Possible.” It is a creed she lives by and why, no matter what mental health issues she experiences, she has said she will not be cooperating with the grand jury.
She has asked supporters to send paperback books to read while she is in jail resisting political repression. She also has asked supporters to write to her about “their pets, their travels, Lord of the Rings, space, ancient civilizations, paleontology, herbal medicine, DIY, crafting, bad 90s movies, pop culture, their kombucha brewing techniques, gardening, or whatever else comes to mind.”
Plante is one of three grand jury resisters in jail in the northwest right now (the others are Matthew Kyle Duran and Katherine “Kteeo” Olejnik).
The tool of movement suppression that is the grand jury is being wielded mightily. These resisters are being put in prison conditions that amount to solitary confinement. The state is trying to break them like they have tried to break members of previous movements in history. Like Will Potter writes, “This is part of the on-going demonization of anarchists, and dissent,” and, “Our response to what is happening today will have a direct impact on how these tactics are used tomorrow, against other social movements.”
Plante said in her statement:
…When they try to mercilessly gut communities, we do not scatter, we grow stronger, we thrive. I view this State repression like this: The State thinks it is a black hole that can destroy whatever it wants. In reality, it is much more like a stellar nursery, wherein it unintentionally creates new, strong anarchist stars…
Authorities are counting on the resisters having little public support because they are anarchists, but, from her biography, it is clear she is not simply an anarchist, a label the government attaches to activists never to acknowledge their beliefs but to discredit them. She is like others in her generation. She likes Lord of the Rings and Magic. She likes bad 90s movies (Is one of them To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar? Wonder what the FBI would make of that?)
The point is supporters have already begun to humanize Plante. She is not this blank person, which authorities can easily cast as the “typical” anarchist prone to criminal acts of violence. On the contrary, with paramilitary squads crashing down doors to sweep up private property and force political activists into informing on their friends or fellow organizers or else do time in prison, it is clear this is like Red Scare history all over again.
Here’s video of Leah reading her full statement: