Academic Freedom Issues in 'Terrorist' Court Case

Academic Freedom Issues in 'Terrorist' Court Case

A sociology graduate student who researches 'radical activist groups' is under pressure from a US court.

Sociology researcher Scott DeMuth and activist friend Carrie Feldman were last month charged with 'conspiracy under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act after he refused to testify before a grand jury that is apparently investigating a laboratory break-in at the University of Iowa in 2004' reports Science.*

Twin Cities Indymedia reported that on October 13th, the two Minneapolis activists were subpoenaed to appear before an Iowa Grand Jury, investigating a November 2004 Animal Liberation Front(ALF) raid of a University of Iowa psychology department animal laboratory.

Both Feldman and DeMuth refused to testify before the Grand Jury, with Feldman reported as saying: "Today my voice may waver, as I stand alone in this room. But I know I speak with the voice of every one of my friends, loved ones, and comrades when I say this: We will not be intimidated. We will not cooperate. I have nothing more to say to you."

Feldman said she had never been to Iowa prior to the court appearance; she was 15-years-old and still at school in Minneapolis at the time of the University of Iowa break-in: “The assertion by the prosecutor that I may be a target of this investigation is ridiculous... I believe that I am being targeted because of my political activity and beliefs, not my involvement in any crime.” A video of the break-in had been posted online by ALF and is viewable in this story.

In November, both again refused to testify and were jailed for contempt by a federal district judge. DeMuth was additionally charged with conspiracy to commit animal enterprise terrorism in Davenport, Iowa federal court, but later had his 'civil contempt' charge dropped.

DeMuth's research focuses on radical activist groups, and in the course of his research, DeMuth promises confidentiality to the subjects he works with. Such non-disclosure agreements are common practice in academic social-science research, across a range of topics from domestic violence and organised-crime to drug-use and whistleblowing. Researchers in areas that require such non-disclosure of participant information are adamant that such agreements are integral to their research. Researchers maintain that without these agreements, many complex and sensitive social issues simply cannot be investigated.

1600 supporters, including DeMuth's academic supervisor David Pellow, have signed a petition urging the US goverment to drop the charges. DeMuth's undergraduate research focused on Native American activists opposed to a highway diversion. The connection to the current case was that some of these activists had showed public support for animal-rights (AR) prisoners. Pellow suspects that the government believes DeMuth gathered detailed information about many of the AR prisoners during his research, which had been presented at Midwest sociology conferences.

The petition in support of DeMuth cites some of the core aspects of the code of ethics of the American Sociological Association (ASA):

Section 11.01:
"Sociologists have an obligation to protect confidential information and not allow information gained in confidence from being used in ways that would unfairly compromise research participants, students, employees, clients, or others."

Section 11.06:
"Sociologists do not disclose confidential, personally identifiable information concerning their research participants, other recipients of their service which is obtained during the course of their work."

Regardless of one's position on animal-rights activity, many activists will be concerned with the fact that an Assistant U.S. Attorney, Clifford Cronk, filed an emergency motion to keep DeMuth behind bars based on the fact that he is involved in anarchist activism: 'Defendant’s writings, literature, and conduct suggest that he is an anarchist and associated with the ALF movement. Therefore, he is a domestic terrorist.'

* full-text requires institutional access

Posted By

Dec 27 2009 14:41


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Juan Conatz
Dec 28 2009 19:14

Thanks for posting this. This is my backyard and there's been some support work for them.

Facebook group:


Juan Conatz
Dec 28 2009 19:24

The last part is worrying. Being kept in jail merely for being an anarchist. Particularily as this justification was used (although denied by a judge) a mere hour or so away from me and my group's organizing efforts here.

Dec 28 2009 19:33

Yeah two main parts of the story are interesting:
- the academic freedom part; participant confidentiality is vital for a lot of social research
- and the targetting of individuals solely on political grounds

The politics of AR don't really come into it, but it's fucked they're being targetted for simply being anarchists.

Kaze no Kae
Jan 4 2010 00:20
it's fucked they're being targetted for simply being anarchists

Of course, but it's not suprising nor is it new. What's disturbing is that sections of the legal establishment are obviously becoming more comfortable with openly targetting people for their political beliefs.

Juan Conatz
Dec 16 2010 19:25


Carrie was jailed in Southern Iowa for four months. On March 19, 2010, she was suddenly released with no real explanation, having steadfastly refused to cooperate with the grand jury in any way.

Scott was taken into custody at the same time as Carrie for civil contempt of court but, on November 18, 2009, he was indicted for conspiracy under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). Two weeks later, he was released with an electronic monitoring bracelet pending his trial. At DeMuth’s pretrial hearings, federal prosecutor Cliff Cronk argued that DeMuth is “an anarchist and therefore a domestic terrorist,” logic that would render untold thousands of U.S. political organizers terrorists. Cronk’s vague indictment relied almost exclusively on DeMuth’s political beliefs, such as his support for other political prisoners, rather than evidence that would actually connect him to the 2004 ALF raid at the UofI.

Scott’s attorneys challenges to the vagueness of the indictment were rendered moot by two superseding indictments, one in February and one in April of 2010; the first superseding indictment was only marginally different than the original one. The trial was postponed repeatedly, and continuing raids and harassment made it clear that the government was stalling with Scott’s case while they continued their investigation into the 2004 raid. When Scott was re-indicted again in April 2010, the new indictment contained a new allegation, this one of involvement in a separate ALF action that occurred in Minnesota in spring of 2006. Though the prosecutor seemed poised to make an argument connecting all ALF actions across the years and across the country under a single conspiracy, there appears to have been no real connection between the two actions.

Scott’s trial was set to begin on September 14, 2010, the day after his final pre-trial hearing. Weeks before hand, the prosecution subpoenaed Carrie and another Twin Cities resident, Sonja Silvernail, to testify at the trial. While Scott and his legal team prepared to counter politically-motivated accusations of terrorism before a jury, Carrie and Sonja decided they would refuse to testify and prepared for the possibility that they would be jailed indefinitely on criminal contempt of court as a result. On September 13th, halfway through Scott’s pre-trial hearing, Cronk offered a plea agreement where Scott would plead guilty to a lesser included charge relating to the 2006 Minnesota action and serve a short prison sentence. As detailed here, Scott accepted the offer, eliminating the risk that he might be falsely convicted of involvement in the 2004 UofI action and serve three years in prison, and also effectively releasing Carrie and Sonja from their subpoenas and the possibility of criminal contempt charges.

Scott will be sentenced on December 15, 2010, with a likely surrender date in early January of 2011.