Is this man a terrorist?

Francis Grady is accused of trying to burn down an abortion clinic, but the feds haven't charged him with terrorism

Topics: Crime,

Is this man a terrorist?Francis Grady (Credit: Outagamie County Sheriff's Dept.)

On Tuesday, 50-year-old Francis Grady pleaded not guilty to trying to burn down a Planned Parenthood in Grand Chute, Wis., on April 1. Earlier this month, however, during his first court appearance, Grady sang a different tune, telling the U.S. district judge he did it because “they’re killing babies there.”

An open and shut case of domestic terrorism for the state, it would seem. But curiously Grady is not facing any domestic terrorism charges, once again raising the question of whether the FBI and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices apply terrorism laws equally when prosecuting ideologically motivated crimes. While Islamists and animal rights and environmental activists regularly spend years behind bars under terrorism sentences, antiabortion criminals are seldom punished as severely. Grady, it would seem, is the latest antiabortion activist accused of a crime that would be harshly punished if, say, he had done it in the name of Allah or Mother Earth.

According to U.S. code, domestic terrorism occurs when the act is “dangerous to human life” and is “a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State” and “appear[s] to be intended … to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.” When discussing Grady in a press release, FBI Special Agent in Charge Teresa Carson’s comments suggest Grady’s alleged actions were indeed terrorism: “The FBI will always investigate and bring to justice anyone who resorts to violence as a means to harm, intimidate or prevent the public’s right to access reproductive health services.” The key word there is “intimidate,” which is one of the core characteristics of any terrorist act. Yet Grady has only been charged with arson and “intentionally damaging the property of a facility that provides reproductive health services.”



Erin Miller, project manager of the Global Terrorism Database, tells Salon that Grady’s attempted arson of the Planned Parenthood, especially in light of his comments to the investigating FBI agent, was clearly an act of domestic terrorism. According to the criminal complaint issued by the FBI, Grady told the agent he “lit up the clinic,” while making clear “he is pro-life, believes in God and disapproves of the activities taking place at the clinic.”

Assistant United States Attorney William Roach, whose office is prosecuting the case, says Grady’s alleged attack did not rise to the level of domestic terrorism, primarily because Grady torched an unoccupied room in an empty building. Also, he says it’s not his responsibility to determine Grady’s motivation for the alleged attack, which he says will come out in front of the jury. “Domestic terrorism is a term of art,” he explains. And regardless of whether you consider Grady’s alleged actions domestic terrorism, according to Roach, he is facing serious charges that could lead to five to 20 years behind bars.

The choice not to charge Grady as a terrorist, however, shows a clear double-standard, according to critics — one that suggests terrorist crimes only occur when they are the product of alien ideologies that make mainstream Americans uncomfortable. This in turn provides public support, or at least indifference, for using controversial counterterrorism techniques — such as agent provocateurs, limitless surveillance without a criminal predicate, and harsh sentences — to launch fishing expeditions and to win lengthy prison sentences for individuals who never harmed or killed anyone and never intended too.

“Ultimately the facts will emerge in the court of public law, not public opinion,” says Alejandro Beutel, government and policy analyst for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. “Nevertheless, as a community that is frequently under the public microscope and subject to broad-brushed surveillance over national security issues, we continue to be closely monitoring this incident and how it is treated by public officials and reporting outlets.”

Journalist Will Potter, the author of “Green Is the New Red,” which explores how the war on terrorism has been used to stifle dissent and label nonviolent civil disobedience as terrorism, says the perfect illustration of this double standard is the case of Eric McDavid. McDavid was labeled an “eco-terrorist” by the FBI and sentenced to nearly 20 years in federal prison in May 2008 after the judge applied a terrorism enhancement to his sentence. McDavid was convicted of conspiring to destroy the Nimbus Dam and other targets with two co-conspirators. His defense attorney, however, argues he was entrapped by an FBI informant that he had developed a crush on.

During the trial, jurors were told that “Anna,” the ringleader of the group McDavid belonged to, was not a government agent, thereby precluding them from considering entrapment a legitimate defense for McDavid. After the trial, two jurors wrote letters to the judge expressing outrage when they learned Anna was indeed a government agent.

“My opinion of the case is that the FBI agents were an ‘embarrassment’ by their lack of knowledge of FBI procedures and the way they handled the investigation, specifically by allowing this case to develop the way it did using Anna and providing all of the essential tools for the group; the cabin, the money, the idea, the books, everything, and by letting Anna ‘string Eric along’ when she should have terminated the relationship clearly with him; that the main witness ‘Anna’ was not a credible witness at all,” wrote juror Diane Bennett. Later on in the same letter, Bennett added, “we would have found that he was entrapped” if the jurors knew Anna was a government agent.

Mike German, a former undercover FBI agent and now senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, notes that there is no way the FBI would use such aggressive tactics to catch antiabortion extremists, even though they present a violent domestic terrorism threat. Usually, tactics such as these are used almost exclusively against Muslim-Americans. “[The ACLU has] evidence that the FBI has sent informants with criminal records into Muslim religious communities, not with a specific focus on particular suspects but rather to spy broadly on the community,” German explains. “If the government was doing the same thing in Christian churches, I think there would be a broader concern about that tactic.” (German was clear to note that this doesn’t mean such FBI tactics need to be used against right-wing groups and antiabortion groups out of some misplaced sense of fairness. Rather, these counterterrorism techniques need to be used selectively and only when the FBI has a specific target and a reasonable basis for suspicion.)

Outside of a notion of equal protection under the law, there are legitimate public safety concerns raised by misdiagnosing where the real domestic terrorism threat lies, says German. Often times, the FBI categorizes instances of vandalism, such as activists breaking windows and spray-painting “Animal Liberation Front” or “Earth Liberation Front” on things, as terrorist acts when more violent instances of right-wing or antiabortion terrorism do not get reflected in the official statistics.

“Within the last 10 years, the FBI has repeatedly said that the environmental terrorism is the No. 1 domestic threat,” he says.  “If you look at the numbers they count, it excludes similar conduct that wasn’t charged to terrorism on the right-wing side.”

German also notes that the FBI has been criticized in the past by its own inspector general for not keeping accurate terrorism-related statistics. “Congress and the Department management also use terrorism-related statistics to make operational and funding decisions for Department counterterrorism activities, and to support the Department’s annual budget requests,” the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General stated in a February 2007 report. “For these and other reasons, it is essential that the Department report accurate terrorism-related statistics.”

That, however, isn’t happening. And by misrepresenting where the true terrorist threat resides in the United States, warns German, the FBI is putting its thumb on the scale and raising legitimate questions as to whether the FBI invests its counterterrorism resources properly. The Grady case only amplifies these concerns.

Matthew Harwood is the ACLU’s senior writer/editor.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>