An environmentalist from the United States has been sent back to prison — and his friends and family say it’s because he spoke up about the government’s attempts to silence activists just like him.
Daniel McGowan had been serving the last chunk of a 7 year incarceration at a half-way house in Brooklyn, New York, but earlier this week was taken into custody and transferred to the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York City.
The Bureau of Prisons has yet to issue a public statement about their decision to put McGowan back behind bars, but his associates say it’s likely the result of a recent op-ed in which the activist condemned the conditions of his incarceration and the Justice Department’s attempts to silence its critics.
McGowan was sentenced in 2007 after pleading guilty to arson and other charges in connection with fires that targeted lumber companies in 2001 and were attributed to the Earth Liberation Front, a radical environmentalist group that has been equated as a domestic terrorist organization by the US government. McGowan spent more than two years of his sentence locked-up in what he called an “experimental segregation unit” within a federal penitentiary in Illinois, and during that time was subjected to restrictions and monitoring so harsh that critics of the facility labeled it “Little Guantanamo.”
According to the Bureau of Prison, the “Communication Management Unit,” or CMU, where McGowan spent more than two years was “established to house inmates who, due to their current offense of conviction, offense conduct or other verified information, require increased monitoring of communication between inmates and persons in the community in order to protect the safety, security and orderly operations of Bureau facilities and protect the public.”
And although the BoP has acknowledged McGowan’s model behavior after his 2007 conviction, he was relocated to the CMU at Marion Penitentiary in August 2008 and stuck there until October of the following year.
Nearing his release back into society, McGowan has been allowed to spend the last few months of his 7-year sentence in a work-release facility in Brooklyn. That was until this week, however, when McGowan was spontaneously moved to a detention center just days after writing about the Marion CMU for Huffington Post.
In an article published on Monday this week, McGowan claimed that the reason he was sent into a unit where his communications were closely monitored was because the Justice Department didn’t like what he had to say. He even titled the op-ed, “Court Documents Prove I was Sent to Communication Management Units (CMU) for my Political Speech.”
“Since August 2008, when I first arrived at the CMU, I have been trying to get answers as to why I was singled out to be sent there. Only now — three years after I filed a federal lawsuit to get to the truth — have I learned why the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) sent me to the CMU: they simply did not like what I had to say in my published writing and personal letters,” McGowan wrote. “In short, based on its disagreement with my political views, the government sent me to a prison unit from which it would be harder for me to be heard, serving as a punishment for my beliefs.”
Later in the editorial, McGowan pointed out specifically what conduct he engaged in from behind bars that were labeled by the prison bureau as reason enough to segregate him in an ultra-restrictive unit, where he was originally only allowed one phone call per week until he took legal action. Citing internal prison memos, McGowan said he was singled out because of:
“My attempts to ‘unite’ environmental and animal liberation movements, and to ‘educate’ new members of the movement about errors of the past; my writings about ‘whether militancy is truly effective in all situations’; a letter I wrote discussing bringing unity to the environmental movement by focusing on global issues; the fact that I was ‘publishing [my] points of view on the internet in an attempt to act as a spokesperson for the movement’; and the BOP’s belief that, through my writing, I have ‘continued to demonstrate [my] support for anarchist and radical environmental terrorist groups.’”
“It may be true that courts have held that a prisoner’s freedom of speech is more restricted than that of other members of the public,” added McGowan, “[b]ut no court has ever said that means that a prisoner is not free to express political views and beliefs that pose no danger to prison security and do not involve criminal acts.”
McGowan’s op-ed ran on Monday and on Wednesday afternoon he emailed investigative journalist Will Potter to let him know that his work pass was revoked. He was taken into custody shortly after.
“If McGowan’s incarceration is retaliation for his First Amendment activity, it would fit a pattern of behavior by the Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons to keep these units secretive,” Potter wrote.
Jenny Synan, McGowan’s wife, told Huffington Post that an official told her that her husband violated a term of his release by authoring the op-ed, as he was barred from “interacting with the media.”
“He just posted his thing a few days ago about all this stuff — about his political beliefs and speech — and they do something to him because of his post about this,” she said. “It’s crazy.”
“Needless to say, this is outrageous,” Rachel Meeropol of the Center for Constitutional Rights responded to HuffPo. “I’ve never heard of a regulation limiting an individual from blogging or contacting the news media.”
Stuart Whatlet, executive blog editor at The Huffington Post, says the Justice Department is wrong to write-off McGowan’s op-ed as an interview with the media.
“The HuffPost blog is a platform for contributors to share opinion, commentary and their thoughts on any topic of their choosing,” Whatley said. “As our guidelines explicitly state, ‘you can write about anything you want. Huffington Post does not select or approve your topics.'”
The CCR has since issued a statement condemning his re-incarceration. “If this is indeed a case of retaliation for writing an article about the BOP retaliating against his free speech while he was in prison, it is more than ironic, it is an outrage,” it reads in part.