Caught in Ashcroft's Twilight Zone

Revolutionary Worker #1214, October 5, 2003, posted at

An hour after midnight this September 11, 25-year-old Josh Connole stood in front of his residential co-operative in Pomona, California--surrounded by cops and federal agents.

For over a week before this, Josh had been followed by unmarked black sedans. He had done everything he could think of to find out who was following him and why. But the surveillance had only increased. He finally decided to confront them. "After 20 minutes of standing in front of my house with housemates," Josh told the RW , "they decided to point a gun at me and put me under arrest. They told me nothing at that point."

Josh finally ended up at the FBI headquarters right next to the West Covina jail and was questioned until six in the morning. "They were asking me for a confession," he said.

What they wanted Josh to confess to was spray-painting Hummers and SUVs and setting a fire that destroyed a Hummer dealership. These events occurred in August in West Covina and other communities in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles. Vehicles were spray-painted with "Polluter" and other words and the initials "ELF." An Earth Liberation Front website claims that the group carried out these actions. The authorities accused Josh of being a member of the ELF. Under intense pressure and threats, Josh refused to confess to what he insisted were false charges.

For the next 14 hours, Josh was held in what his lawyer, William Paparian, called "John Ashcroft's Twilight Zone," held in a jail with no charges. Then they booked him for arson.

During the night, meanwhile, the police and agents surrounded the two houses which make up Josh's co-op, called Regen V. They said they were waiting for a search warrant--and cut the DSL lines into the houses. Co-op members mobilized support. Emily said, "In the morning we called Pacifica radio station KPFK and notified the Independent Media Center. At least a hundred people came."

At three in the afternoon, the cops said they had a search warrant, ordered everyone out of the houses, and invaded with their guns drawn. The cops left next morning with carloads of people's belongings.

For three days, Josh was held in a jail cell with the lights on 24 hours a day. He underwent two marathon interrogations, and never varied from his story of innocence. One FBI agent threatened him, "This is some deep shit you got your fucking self in. This is serious shit."

At 4:30 on Monday afternoon, after 96 hours in custody, Josh walked out of jail with no charges. "My friends were all sitting there waiting for me," he remembered later, "and we had this big `Free Josh' rally that turned into a `Josh Is Free!' rally."


The members of Regen V describe their co-op as "a residential cooperative dedicated to promoting environmental sustainability and community.... Members come from diverse backgrounds with diverse political and social views. Residents have the opportunity to grow their own food, compost their food scraps, feed the homeless, sponsor local events and educational workshops, as well as explore various environmental and social issues." Many Regen residents participated in the big anti-war mobilizations earlier this year.

The first protest that Josh went to was the Democratic Convention in L.A. in 2000. Early this year he helped to initiate a weekly peace vigil in the Orange County city of Brea. Josh currently works as a solar panel installer. Emily said about Josh: "He stands for positive change and promoting a more sustainable ecological and foreign policy. He's down for justice and human rights."

After his release from jail, Josh recounted how he first found out he was a "suspect." A week and a half before his arrest, he noticed something strange while going around in an electric golf cart, one of the pollution-free vehicles co-op members share. "It was really obvious that I was being followed, because any time you drive on the main streets with this thing, it only goes 25 miles an hour. People are like, `Hey! Get out of the way,' trying to get around you and stuff. Well, this black Mustang with dark, tinted windows was going 20 or 15 miles an hour, sitting there behind me. So it was like, `What the heck is this guy doing?' I made a left and I made a right, and he got behind me again, doing the same thing. It was way too strange."

When he continued to be tailed in this way on other outings for a week, Josh called 911. "911 tells me to head down to the police station.. So I did a U-turn on a residential street with cars parked on both sides. You should have seen the mayhem of the five cars following me, trying to do three-point turns so they could all turn around at once and get behind me again... They all followed me right into the police station. They had a little pow-wow with the cops for a while after they'd searched and were detaining me , when I'd called 911 on them . All they said was, `I can't tell you why they're following you. They're agents of the government of some kind.' " After that, he drove home--and was arrested shortly later.


The authorities initially charged Josh on state arson charges. But as William Paparian, Josh's lawyer, explained, both the FBI and the L.A. County District Attorney "used the language of section 803 of the USA-PATRIOT Act, `domestic terrorism.' Once they said `domestic terrorism,' this was no longer an arson investigation. This became the FBI, the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division of the U.S. Treasury Department, the West Covina Police Department, and other unknown federal agents that were here and would not identify what agency they were with."

For days after his release, Josh continued to be followed by agents of the government of some kind. A week after his release, someone claiming to be a member of the ELF called the L.A. Times and gave unpublished details of the SUV arson attack, which were confirmed by the police. But the police continue to refer to Josh as a "suspect."

So far, the only indication of why the authorities targeted Josh and Regen was a statement in an L.A. Times article about "an anonymous tip" that there was something "suspicious" going on at the co-op. The only "evidence" that has been made public are grainy surveillance photos from the Hummer dealership. The photos depict two individuals, one of them tall and thin. Josh is tall and thin, but he points out that his appearance clearly differs from the figure in the photo--and that unlike the person in the photo, he never wears Nike shoes because of opposition to sweatshops.

The government has not returned any of the property taken in the raid on the co-op. When applying for a search warrant, the police are legally required to make a declaration about the evidence that they have to suspect someone. The federal judge who issued the warrant sealed the affidavit, and Josh and his lawyer are trying to force the records open.

Josh Connole is determined that the government not be allowed to intimidate people: "Everyone should feel the opposite of intimidation and feel that they'd better stand up for their First Amendment rights right now before they lose them.Our civil rights are under attack more than they have ever been in the history of this country, and we need to stand up stronger than we have ever stood up, ever in the history of this country."

Josh told the RW,"This 'War on Domestic Terrorism'--our government is actually declaring war on its own people, and that should be a very scary fact to America people to realize that their government is at war with them."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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