Animal rights and anti-police-power activists on Saturday charged that federal agents don't have any leads on an Aug. 1 arson fire in San Diego, so they are resorting to harassing local activist groups
"This last raid is just a further example of the U.S. government targeting activists when they become effective," said David Agranoff of Compassion for Farm Animals at a Balboa Park press conference. "When we are able to reach out to people with a message that is unpopular with the government, these are the things we see."
On Aug. 13, agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raided the homes of Agranoff and his roommate, fellow activist Cari Beltane. They seized a video camera, video film, flyers, posters and incense sticks, among other items, said Agranoff, reading from government documentation of the raid. Agents refused Agranoff's request that they turn over cards with badge numbers and names, he said, and they did not permit him to make a full list of the items they were taking.
The activists' North Park home, which doubles as an office for Compassion for Farm Animals, as part of an investigation into the arson fire that brought down the 206-unit La Jolla Crossroads complex in UTC. The Earth Liberation Front has claimed responsibility for the fire, but Agranoff and Beltane deny any connections between Compassion for Farm Animals and ELF.
Supported by a group of more than 20 protestors holding hand-painted placards, Agranoff told reporters that he has nothing to hide from the FBI and that he is concerned that the raid is a sign of things to come. "What we want to talk about is how this is part of a greater pattern of harassment of activists across the country," he said. "The FBI has targeted raids in homes, just like ours in New Jersey, Houston, Texas and Seattle. None of the people who lived at these homes has ever been brought up on criminal charges."
That's when the TV media assembled Saturday began to lose interest. Two cameramen doubling as reporters continued to harp on the ELF connection, and they urged Agranoff to make a quotable statement on the fire-which he eventually gave in his speech, saying his group could neither "condemn nor condone" the actions of the ELF because they don't "understand the issues involved."
With that, one cameraman decided he had his story. "NBC doesn't want to stay," Agranoff said, taunting the photojournalist as he walked away. "Well, we know they're owned by General Electric and they get lots of money in weapons contracts."
"The media is important in this," Agranoff told the remaining reporters. "Last weekend, we did a protest at McDonald's and we had one news crew there. We were giving information out about a multinational corporation that's responsible for horrible, horrible products that are degrading the health of Americans-this is a big story. If there were people causing the death of thousands of Americans, but it wasn't a multinational corporation, we probably would be able to get a news crew out there to cover it, but we can't get them out there to cover McDonald's.
The one crew that showed at McDonald's left as soon as Agranoff said he had nothing to say about the UTC blaze.
Agranoff believes Compassion for Farm Animals was targeted because the organization hosted a speech by Rod Coronado-who describes himself as an ELF and Animal Liberation Front spokesperson-on Aug. 2, the day after the UTC fire.
Coronado's speech advocated direct criminal action as a last resort when civil disobedience doesn't work. Coronado, Agranoff said, is entitled to his opinion, and First Amendment rights should have precluded any government action for what someone said.
"Under the Patriot Act," Agranoff wrote in an e-mail to CityBeat after the press conference, "our rights and civil liberties are disappearing. I think activists of all kinds should see this as a wakeup call."