DENNISON WILLIAMS was in bed when the agents banged on his front door shouting, "FBI!" Next he heard a boom and saw the light of a flash grenade.
"I'm upstairs and unarmed!" he shouted. Agents carrying assault rifles handcuffed him while over a dozen officers from the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) searched his house, seizing his phone, computer, and black clothes. As they left, Williams was issued a subpoena to appear in front of a grand jury in Seattle on Thursday, August 2.
Williams' house on NE 8th and Buffalo was one of three searched in Portland last Wednesday, July 25, as part of a coordinated JTTF raid targeting lefty political activists in Washington and Oregon. Officers issued grand jury subpoenas to at least five people that morning in Portland, Seattle, and Olympia.
The FBI is mum about what alleged crimes prompted the bi-state searches and subpoenas; the search warrants are sealed, and this week's grand jury hearing itself isn't public. But Williams provided the Mercury with a redacted copy of the search warrant for his home, which shows the agents were looking for numerous items (including "anti-government or anarchist literature," black clothing, and flags) that could be related to the federal crimes of destruction of government property and interstate travel with intent to riot.
Williams isn't certain what the grand jury is investigating, specifically, but thinks he's being called in to provide information against other activists.
"It's related to political opposition, it's related to political dissent," says Williams. "They're trying to create a wedge within people who are resisters. They're specifically pursuing anarchists."
The subpoenas and searches are likely related to an ongoing Seattle police investigation of this year's May Day protests. While the protests included thousands of peaceful people, several individuals did smash windows at Nike, American Apparel, and the city's federal courthouse. Seattle police have been trying for months to identify and prosecute suspects for that window smashing.
On July 10, Seattle police staged a raid very similar to Portland's at an Occupy collective house in South Seattle, deploying a SWAT team that charged into the home, taking political pamphlets and black clothes. Seattle police say that raid was specifically gathering evidence about the "May Day Mayhem" protest and noted on their website at the time, "There may be more search warrants in the future."
In some ways, the recent raids aren't surprising. The investigation fits into the recent history of the feds prioritizing the pursuit of left wing activist groups. Starting in the late '90s, the FBI has investigated environmentally driven property destruction as "eco-terrorism," including the 1998 arson of a Vail, Colorado, resort for which four people associated with the Oregon-based Earth Liberation Front (ELF) were indicted. The following year's counter terrorism report calls the arson of a Seattle Gap store "terrorism," blaming the damage on "anarchists." Weeks after the Gap-burning, the World Trade Organization protests stormed Seattle, and anarchists, along with "eco-terrorists," replaced right-wing militiamen as the new domestic boogey men.
ELF is now mostly gone, thanks to several highly publicized trials that legally branded the group as terrorists. But this year, the FBI has pursued several big left-wing cases in the Midwest. Following the recent May Day protests, officers of JTTF arrested five self-proclaimed anarchists in Ohio plotting to blow up a bridge. As with Portland's "Christmas Tree Bomber," Mohamed Mohamud, the bureau provided faux bombs to the accused. On May 19, police working closely with the FBI arrested three anarchists in Chicago planning to blow up President Obama's reelection headquarters.
Mayor Sam Adams' office notes that JTTF officers involved in Portland's raid were not working within Portland's JTTF program, but came from some other jurisdiction. The program that mandates collaboration between the city's police bureau and the FBI has been controversial this past year as city council weighed whether or not to join the task force. After working out an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union, city council unanimously agreed to rejoin the group in April 2011.
Whether the charges brought forward in the grand jury hearing in Seattle this week will be labeled terrorism or merely federally prosecutable window smashing remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the accused and their supporters are keeping their lips as tight as the FBI's.
"I'm not going to cooperate with the grand jury," says Williams. "They're a method of intimidating people."