Federal investigators and prosecutors gathered on the steps of
a courthouse in Central Islip, Long Island in February to announce
that they finally had caught up with the shadowy Earth
Liberation Front. The ELF's "campaign of violent crime has stretched
from the Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountains to the Midwest," an
FBI official said. "That streak has ended here in New York."
But some observers found the little group of "eco-terrorists" who
had been arrested less than impressive. They consisted of three
teen-agers--Jared McIntyre, Matthew Rammelkamp and George Mashkow
Jr.--who confessed to arson and vandalism of some suburban homes
under construction, but had no clear links to any activist organizations.
The fourth member of the group, a 19-year-old named Connor Cash,
is a well-known local activist. But Cash is a member of the
Modern Times Collective, a local anarchist group that has publicly
opposed such extreme actions.
Prosecutors say Cash bought gasoline and talked the three into
using it to burn four homes--although the U.S. Attorney's office
in Central Islip admits they did not mention anyone specific in
their pleas. The three minors pled guilty as adults; Cash pled not
guilty to arson conspiracy, and aiding and abetting arson--charges
that could land him in jail for 40 years, while the others could
be imprisoned for up to 20 years each. "The FBI has used these three
kids to frame an innocent activist," says Kevin Van Meter, a member
of the Modern Times collective.
Far from being a terrorist, Cash has become the focal point in
what Modern Times members charge is a pattern of police harassment
and "profiling" of activists who have participated in large-scale
anti-globalization protests across the country. They say police
and FBI agents have intimidated, surveilled, arrested and offered
large bribes to Modern Times members.
Always a hard place for the left to organize, Long Island nevertheless
has become the home of a lively, youth-oriented anarchist scene
in recent years. Much of its energy is centered on Modern Times,
which publishes a newspaper, holds conferences and educational meetings
on issues like globalization and women's rights, and is trying to
open an organizing center. Cash is one of this group's most active
members. A high school dropout, he is now an organizer working with
migrant workers and day laborers who have been the target of local
hostility, and even beatings, in recent months. He was instrumental
in opening Long Island chapters of the Food
Not Bombs! hunger relief program.
Modern Times dates its troubles to May 6, 2000, when it held an
unpermitted street festival in the town of Huntington. The action
took over Huntington's main thoroughfare to protest globalization,
the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and lack of space
for youth on Long Island, where kids have little more than parking
lots to hang out in for entertainment. The 90 protesters held a
drum circle, handed out newspapers and threw up a 28-foot tripod--which
Cash climbed, preventing it from being removed. Befuddled police,
who had never seen anything like this in their town, arrested Cash
and 15 others. Thirteen, including Cash, were sentenced to 10 hours
of community service.
Then on August 1, Modern Times participated in a street blockade
at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. Cash and
50 others were arrested. Soon afterward, Cash and other Modern Times
members found FBI agents turning to them for leads in their investigation
of ELF-inspired arsons on Long Island--despite the fact that Modern
Times has not been active in campaigning against urban sprawl, which
was the apparent motive behind the burnings.
Cash was one of several group members who were threatened with
retaliation if they did not help the agents, according to Van Meter
and two witnesses. Officials at the U.S. Attorney's office decline
to comment on case specifics.
Modern Times responded with a long statement in its newspaper in
early February, charging that the ELF investigation was actually
something more sinister. "The FBI was not just interested in intimidating
and investigating those involved in the ELF, but 'fishing' into
the activities of youth community activists," it said.
The statement also strongly opposed ELF's tactics: "Creating an
environment of fear and intimidation by means of arson is not conducive
to the development of an empowered community. É Furthermore arson
puts at risk the lives of volunteer firefighters and innocent community
members who are not profiting from urban sprawl."
As a member of the Modern Times collective, Cash consented to this
viewpoint. Just days after the statement appeared, however, he was
arrested. His family had to put up their house to free him on $250,000
bail, and he has had trouble finding work as he awaits trial, which
is expected to come up before the end of the year.
Cash is not discussing his case with the press. But his family,
co-workers and neighbors proclaim his innocence. Civil rights lawyer
Fred Brewington, who represents Cash, says there is not "a shred
of evidence that his client broke any law or did anything improper."
Brewington finds it sadly predictable that police intimidation
threatens to derail Modern Times--which claims its members are still
under surveillance. "They're the young people that we were yesterday,"
Brewington says. "As they grow older they'll be the people who we
look up to in the community, who raise issues."
However, the publicity around Cash's case has helped rally support
for Modern Times. Van Meter reports that the collective is planning
local protests against the IMF and World Bank, and hopes to open
its organizing center and a radical, youth-run school within the