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Did the FBI Use Occupy Cleveland Case to Equate Activism with Terrorism?

Another case exposes the FBI's decade-long entrapment trend.

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Just as with the Cleveland arrests, prosecutors wasted little time in pegging the NATO 3 as “violent anarchists.” With little apparent purpose other than to frighten the public, chill dissent ahead of a national protest and  undermine the Occupy movement, the NATO 3 were charged with material support for terrorism and conspiracy to commit terrorism, among several other charges, and held on a $1.5 million bond. Mirroring the Cleveland case, infiltrators were used to spy on political activists for months leading up to the protests. The NATO 3 are currently in custody awaiting trial and are expected to use an entrapment defense, which will be very difficult to show.

In fact, no terrorism charges since 9/11 have been beaten based on an entrapment defense. To successfully assert an entrapment defense in federal court, a defendant must show by a preponderance of the evidence that they were induced to commit the crime. If that standard is met, the burden of proof shifts to the prosecutor, who must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was predisposed to commit the crime. That may seem possible or even probable in some of the cases described above. But don’t be fooled. The  97 percent conviction rate for cases involving informants indicates it’s not.

The high conviction rate in “terrorism”-related cases is assured in part because the legal deck is stacked against defendants. In addition to the difficulty of waging an entrapment defense, the threat of long prison terms and the use of co-defendant testimony create strong incentives to plead guilty.

Like scores of others since 9/11, it seems evident that the Cleveland defendants pleaded guilty despite having been induced to participate in a manufactured crime by Azir, the informant. The young Cleveland activists stand as examples, deliberately spotlighted in the mainstream media, of the lengths to which the government will go to ensnare political dissidents in FBI-concocted “terror” plots. With the passage of anti-free speech laws like AETA, and by normalizing the use of heavy surveillance and infiltration of activist groups, the government has tried to discredit and disrupt social justice movements. To some extent, the government has succeeded in this effort to chill dissent, but with such a tenuous strategy, it’s likely just a matter of time before Americans stop believing the hype.

Kris Hermes is an activist who provides legal support work on cases involving political dissidents.