On January 8, 2015, alleged “eco-terrorist” and radical environmental activist Eric McDavid was granted immediate freedom after serving nine years of his initial nineteen-year federal prison sentence. In 2007, McDavid was charged with conspiring to commit eco-arson acts deemed by the FBI as alarming domestic terror plots. However, tangible evidence withheld during McDavid’s trial has recently surfaced to expose a scheme of FBI entrapment and prosecutorial misconduct. According to the Sacramento Bee and the Guardian, McDavid was arrested in 2006 for purportedly plotting to bomb several California sites including the Nimbus Dam, a U.S. Forest Service lab of plant genetics, and cellphone towers in the Sacramento region. However, as these sources and a number of other independent media outlets like Democracy Now! and the Daily Beast have subsequently reported, U.S. district judge Morrison England—who originally sentenced McDavid in 2007—ordered McDavid’s early discharge on the grounds of withholding key evidence critical to a fair defense case. The government failed to disclose 2,500 official documents containing crucial evidence substantiating McDavid’s defense—a clear violation of the decree ruled by Brady v. Maryland in 1963 that requires prosecutors to “disclose materially exculpatory evidence in the government’s possession.” Government misconduct further infringed upon McDavid’s Fifth Amendment rights after his lawyer filed a habeus corpus claim contending to the romantic nature of emails in correspondence between McDavid and the teenage FBI informant who went by the name “Anna.”
The official documents were obtained in 2010 by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but the government did not disclose the emails between McDavid and “Anna” until 2014—documents that ultimately won McDavid’s release in a settlement to plead guilty to a lesser charge: a single count of conspiracy to attack a government facility. Yet federal prosecutors have admitted to using teenage agent provocateur “Anna” to pressure McDavid and two co-activists into planning illegal activities and supplying the trio with food, transportation, shelter, and bomb-making materials. The documents also reveal evidence that the government had ordered—then inexplicably canceled—a lie-detector test from their teenage informant. The eco-arson plotting that “Anna” coaxed McDavid into through romantic enticement and gradual infiltration took place in a FBI-funded cabin equipped with supplies and hidden surveillance.
Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! provides an excerpt of an exchange between Anna and McDavid’s team that clearly demonstrates the “egregious and grotesque entrapment by the government,” according to McDavid’s lawyer, Ben Rosenfeld. In the recorded exchange, Anna enquires adamantly, “Tomorrow, what are we planning on doing tomorrow? Are we still planning on doing anything tomorrow? Or should I just stop talking about plans?” McDavid and co-activist Laura Weiner reply with hesitation, signaling resistance towards her persistent schemes, but Anna responds aggressively, “I would love it if you guys followed a plan! How about that!” Rosenfeld asserts that while there was discussion of these alleged ploys, there were no definite plans, no co-agreements, and certainly no actions carried out. Any tentative plots involving McDavid were “100 percent the FBI’s and Anna’s… [determining] a clear-cut case of entrapment. It’s a case of the government creating and then solving its own so-called conspiracy.”
Extensive political spectacles erupted during the timeframe of McDavid’s initial trial and conviction. A sensationalized 2008 feature in Elle covered the role of “Anna” as a glamorized agent provocateur, but the article failed to examine the government’s overbroad interpretation of terrorism—labeling non-violent environmental activists as terrorists—and the questionable methods the FBI uses to justify counterterrorism exploits. Other corporate news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and Tribune Business News, published articles in 2008 (prior to the FOIA-obtained documents) pitching the failed eco-terrorism bombing campaign and framing McDavid as an anarchist with an “aimless life-style.”
More recently, the New York Times published an article on January 9, 2015 titled, “Man Convicted of Environmental Terrorism Is Freed.” The piece, however, undermines the FBI entrapment and government misconduct, evidently siding with federal prosecutors in disputing the value of the withheld evidence exposed. The article alludes that the omitted information was inadvertent and not “even remotely exculpatory.” Rather than focusing on McDavid’s environmental activism agenda, as radical as it might be, the New York Times emphasizes that McDavid has visited some of the target sites and had previously attempted to create homemade explosives, despite FBI-supplied materials and informant “Anna’s” role in entrapment by encouraging violent conspiratorially acts in false hopes of romantic bribery. Further, the article provides statements from federal authorities, citing “Anna’s” testimony that it was McDavid who had requested bomb-making recipes and even threatened her life, proclaiming that the informant’s assistance supposedly helped obstruct the alleged plots to bomb the targeted sites. The article frames “Anna” as an “unlikely spy,” but rather as a neutral intelligence gatherer. The New York Times quotes the federal prosecutors’ memorandum, stating that McDavid’s “homegrown brand of eco-terrorism is just as dangerous and insidious as international terrorism.” While the article alludes that the FBI did provide surveillance equipment, the article focuses on the recorded material of McDavid and his co-conspirators “discussing reconnaissance trips and the possibility of causing accidental deaths,” rather than the evidence of such clear-cut entrapment. The New York Times also contends that prosecutors did provide “withheld material” in November 2014, but neglects the blatant violation of the Brady rule and of McDavid’s habeas corpus claim. Fox News also provided an extremely vague article on January 8, 2015, outlining McDavid’s early prison release and the conviction stemming from currently obsolete acts of nationwide eco-terrorism, whilst wholly neglecting the unconstitutionality behind the government’s withheld evidence. Fox maintains that only McDavid’s family and his attorneys claim the FBI’s role in entrapment. Amidst a flurry of local and independent news criticizing the FBI’s entrapment and misconduct, there have been one corporate media article, a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece from January 12, 2015, which details the failure of the FBI to turn over the thousands of official documents that could have been critical in McDavid’s defense and highlights a pattern of injustice violations in the Brady rule.
Sources: Denny Walsh and Sam Stanton, “Convicted ‘eco-terrorist’ freed amid claims FBI hid evidence,” Sacramento Bee, January 8, 2015, http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/crime/article5641188.html – storylink=cpy 2014.
Amanda Holpuch, “Man convicted of ‘eco-terrorism’ freed amid claims FBI hid evidence,” The Guardian, January 9, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jan/09/eric-mcdavid-eco-terrorism-fbi-evidence.
Sarah Shourd, “I Was Jailed As An Ecoterrorist—But I Was Set Up By the FBI,” Daily Beast, Jan. 25, 2015. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/25/i-was-jailed-as-an-ecoterrorist-but-i-was-set-up-by-the-fbi.html
Student Researcher: Ellie Kim (Diablo Valley College) and Alec Salloum (University of Regina)
Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College) and Patricia W. Elliott (University of Regina)