For the past few weeks, Mary "Moss" Fanelli, a tough but effusive environmental activist, thought that she was being followed. An occasional treesitter in Eagle Creek, she has spent time on the front lines. But, according to friends, when Moss went about her life in town--going to cafes, the library--she began to suspect she was being shadowed. A few times, conservatively dressed men would follow her to different locales, sit nearby, and pretend to read the newspaper, while obviously eavesdropping.
"Either they were feds, or they had no social skills," explained one friend. Others who know Moss corroborated these stories. "It's not just Moss' craziness," one friend added.
Two weeks ago, her paranoia was validated when she was served a subpoena to appear before a federal court grand jury in Eugene, along with two other forest activists. (On Wednesday, the hearing was inexplicably postponed.) The summons was a shock, and the purpose for the grand jury still remains unclear, but environmentalists suspect that law enforcement agents are taking advantage of recent increases in their powers and trying to unravel the tightly knit activist circles in Oregon.
"It is opportunist," said Ivan Maluski, a spokesperson for the Cascadia Forest Alliance. "Using the buzzword of 'terrorism,' is a chance to harass people who have been a thorn in their side."
At a grand jury--unlike at a full-blown trial--attorneys are not allowed to be present, and traditional civil protections are relaxed. Activists who refuse to answer questions run the risk of being jailed for contempt. An expansive study about grand juries released last year by the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys found that dozens of forest activists in California had been detained under such circumstances; one spent more than 100 days in jail without being charged for any crime.
Throughout the bulk of the twentieth century, grand juries were favored tools for prosecuting mafia kingpins. Because they can be convened behind closed doors, potential witnesses remained protected and anonymous, while district attorneys gathered mountains of damning evidence. But in more recent years, grand juries have been directed at political activists.
Environmentalists and criminal law experts speculate that the grand jury will show Moss pictures of other activists, ask for information about their whereabouts, and attempt to pry for data about activists' strategies.
"The tactic of the grand jury is to single out and isolate a person against their community," explained Kim Marks, a close friend to Moss (who was unavailable for comment; after her canceled hearing, she retreated to the woods). "But instead, their attempts have brought this community closer together," added Marks, explaining that rallies and fundraisers have been held for Moss. The grand jury has been postponed until mid-January.