During this month's town hall meetings held by members of Congress, activists have protested while displaying pictures depicting President Obama as the Joker or as Hitler, wearing guns openly to the protests, and advocating violence in furtherance of political objectives. These protests, while peaceful, have renewed the debate over the proper conduct of protests, activism, and poilitical dissent in this country, a debate which was also an issue during the 2008 presidential campaign season.
One year ago this week, during the Republican National convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, political activists opposed to the Republicans or to government in general, staged protests outside the venue. Some of these protests resulted in property damage. The police responded with riot police, pepper spray, and arrests. The group known as the "RNC 8" faced federal terrorism charges stemming from their involvement with these protests, but terrorism charges were later dropped .
Here at Newsvine, we watched and participated as these events unfolded. Several Newsviners were in St. Paul that week, and provided updates on the convention and the protests as they occurred. For my part, I put together a chronology of events with links to newspaper sources and Newsviner stories. I suggest you read that article to refresh your memory of these events.
In this article, I will attempt to bring you up to date with some of the people who were arrested in St. Paul one year ago, as well as provide a starting point for debate on the subject of political protest in this country.
The RNC 8, also known as the RNC welcoming committee, were targeted in a raid on August 30th, 2008, when police issued a search warrant on a personal home where protesters were staying. In total, 8 people were arrested and charged with conspiracy to riot, and conspiracy to commit criminal damage to property. These charges carried a federal terrorism endorsement under the Minnesota PATRIOT act, but that charge was later dropped. The RNC 8 are still awaiting trial. The most recent court appearance was postponed to a later unspecified date. A group called "Friends of the RNC 8 " is planning a protest in downtown St. Paul, MN, this Saturday, August 29, 2009, at The Black Dog Cafe, 308 Prince Street, St. Paul, Minnesota, at High Noon. They plan to revisit the sites of some of the protests, reenact the protests, and give interviews.
Some other protesters arrested during the convention have already faced trial:
- Jason Allan Sparks, pled guilty to aiding and abetting first-degree criminal damage to property, which could draw 60 days in jail, $100 fine, and a $4,380 restitution for breaking windows.
- Sean Patrick McCoy, convicted of public assembly without a permit, conviction overturned on appeal, all charges dismissed.
- Glenn David Dyer, pled guilty to criminal damage to property for smashing a Macy's store window with a hammer, sentenced to 30 days in jail, $100 fine, 5 years probation, and $2,700 restitution.
- Elliot Hughes, who claimed police torture after arrest, charged with two counts of assaulting an officer and a separate count of obstructing the legal process with force, awaiting trial.
- David Terence Mahoney, second degree assault for throwing a 50-pound sandbag from an overpass onto Interstate 94, sentenced to 90 days.
- David McKay, pled guilty to one count of possession of an unregistered firearm, one count of illegal manufacture of a firearm and one count of possession of a firearm with no serial number (charges relating to 8 molotov cocktails). Sentenced to 48 months.
- Brad Crowder, pleaded guilty to possession of an unregistered firearm (molotov cocktail), sentenced to 24 months.
- Katyanne Marie Kibby, indicted for threatening the life of Brandon Darby, the informant in the cases of David McKay and Brad Crowder. If convicted, she could face 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
- Matthew Bradley DePalma, possessing an unregistered firearm (molotov cocktail), sentenced to 42 months.
- Amy Goodman, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, journalists covering the RNC and arrested for unlawful assembly, obstructing the legal process and incitement to riot: all charges dropped.
The above are just a few of the cases resulting from the protests at the 2008 RNC. many others have been dismissed, are awaiting trial, or currently being tried. Over 800 people were arrested during the RNC.
Ralph Boelter, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Minneapolis Field Office, in a press release on the FBI website, said: "Threatening life and property in the name of a perceived cause is reprehensible regardless of the ideological influence that motivates the attackers." That statement, while in response to the events at the RNC in 2008, is relevant to the current debate raging in this country over healthcare: when does political dissent or political activism or political protest cross the line to a criminal offense, and when do criminal offenses cross the line to terrorism?
- Is open carry of a firearm a threat?
- Is a poster which advocates killing someone a threat?
- Should Molotov Cocktails have to be registered with the government as weapons?
- Should all protesters at political events be required to stage their protest in a certain area, and if so, should that area be so far away from the political event as to render the protest pointless?
- Should people who damage property during a political event be prosecuted as terrorists?
- Are people who make threats of bodily harm terrorists?
- Is any protester who commits a violent act during a political protest a terrorist?
We will certainly have to deal with this situation again in the future. Our country was founded on the idea of tolerance of dissenting viewpoints. Our political system is based on the idea of compromise. We must find a way to give people a voice in their government while still opposing violence on either side. Our leaders, having heard our pleas, must then act on what they have heard.