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Daniel G. McGowan

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Title: Daniel G. McGowan  
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Subject: Earth Liberation Front, Eco-terrorism, Operation Backfire (FBI), Animal Liberation Front, Communication Management Unit
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Daniel G. McGowan

Daniel Gerard McGowan
Born New York City
Occupation Environmental and social justice activist
Criminal charge
Arson and conspiracy to commit arson
Criminal penalty
7 years in prison, $1.9 million USD restitution
Criminal status Released June 5, 2013[1]
Spouse(s) Jennifer Synan
Conviction(s) Pled guilty
Daniel Gerard McGowan (born 1974) is an American environmental and social justice activist who was arrested and charged in federal court on multiple counts of arson and conspiracy, relating to the arson of Superior Lumber company in Glendale, Oregon on January 2, 2001, and Jefferson Poplar Farms in Clatskanie, Oregon on May 21, 2001, the latter of which the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) claimed responsibility for. His arrest is part of what the US government has dubbed Operation Backfire.

McGowan was facing a minimum of life in prison if convicted when he accepted a non-cooperation plea agreement, pleading guilty on November 9, 2006. A terrorism enhancement was applied to his sentence, and McGowan was ultimately sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. He was released on parole in June 2013.


  • Biography 1
  • Arrest and Operation Backfire 2
  • Criticism of prosecution 3
  • Plea agreement 4
  • Sentencing and prison 5
  • Documentary 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


McGowan was born in witch-hunt", "aimed at disrupting and discrediting political movements".[8] Activists, alluding to the Red Scare, claim the operations are "fishing expedition[s]" carried out "in the midst of 9/11 McCarthyism.[9] The FBI disputes these claims. Director Robert Mueller claims the agency takes action "only when volatile talk crosses the line into violence and criminal activity".[10]

Plea agreement

On November 9, 2006, McGowan and co-defendants Jonathan Paul, Joyanna Zacher and Nathan Block pleaded guilty and signed a plea agreement. The agreement does not require the defendants' cooperation (i.e., informing on others).[11]

Zacher[12] and Block[13] each pleaded to one count of conspiracy, attempted arson, and two separate incidents of arson. McGowan pled to conspiracy and to two separate incidents of arson. The government recommended that they be sentenced to 8 years in prison. Paul pleaded to one count of arson and one count of conspiracy.[14] The government recommended Paul be sentenced to 5 years in prison. All four defendants were free to argue for a lesser sentence.[11]

Prosecutors asked the court to apply a "terrorism enhancement" at sentencing.[15] The defendants could have faced up to 20 years in prison in addition to the terms of the plea agreement. The government was seeking the enhancement because, despite the fact that the crimes involved only the destruction of private property, it was possible their actions could have led to people's injuries or deaths. No government property was damaged in any of the incidents.[11][16]

Sentencing and prison

On June 4, 2007, McGowan was sentenced to 7 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $1.9 million in restitution. U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken presided over the sentencing, which took place at Oregon Federal Court in Eugene, Oregon.[17] Judge Aiken applied a "terrorism enhancement" to the sentence.[18] McGowan was incarcerated in the highly restrictive Communication Management Unit at the United States Penitentiary, Marion from August 2008 to October 2010.[19]

On October 19, 2010, McGowan's request for a transfer from the CMU to general population was granted.[20] However, for reasons never explained to McGowan, his family, supporters, or lawyers, four months later he was transferred to another Communications Management Unit, this time in Terre Haute, Indiana.[21]

Close to a year prior to the latest transfer, in March, 2010, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of multiple prisoners, including McGowan and his wife.[22] In the time following the filing of this case, several news pieces that expose the CMUs have been published.[23][24][25][26]

On December 11, 2012, McGowan was released to a halfway house in New York City.[27] He was taken into custody again on April 4, 2013, several days after writing an article for the Huffington Post criticizing CMUs.[28] The stated reason for McGowan's detention was that the Huffington Post article violated a regulation against inmates "publishing under a byline"; the Center for Constitutional Rights pointed out that this regulation had been declared unconstitutional, and McGowan was released back to a halfway house on April 5.[29] On June 5, 2013, McGowan was released on parole.[1][30]


In 2011, Sam Cullman and Marshall Curry's documentary If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front was released in theaters and on DVD by Oscilloscope Laboratories. The documentary follows McGowan's history with the ELF while examining the group at large. The film was shown on the PBS documentary series and on-line in September–October 2011.[2]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Inmate Locator". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved September 25, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Curry, Marshall (filmmaker), "If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front", PBS POV documentary, produced and first aired 2011. Synopsis only at link. Biographical info from film. Viewed 2011-10-23 MPBN.
  3. ^ Grigoriadis, Vanessa (Jun 18, 2007). "Is This Elf a Terrorist? The first New Yorker convicted of ecoterrorism.". New York Magazine. 
  4. ^ Free Jeff Luers, Homepage.
  5. ^, Homepage.
  6. ^ "Eleven Defendants Indicted on Domestic Terrorism Charges" (Press release). U.S. Dept. of Justice. Jan 20, 2006. Retrieved April 26, 2011. 
  7. ^ Knickerbocker, Brad (January 30, 2006). "'"Backstory: Eco-vigilantes: All in 'The Family?. The  
  8. ^ Independent Media Center | | ((( i )))
  9. ^ Environmental + Anarchist witch-hunt under way, a very coherent summary : Indybay
  10. ^ Federal Bureau of Investigation - Major Executive Speeches - January 20, 2006
  11. ^ a b c "RE United States v. Daniel Gerard McGowan". U.S. Department of Justice United States Attorney District of Oregon:. Retrieved 2009-03-21. 
  12. ^ Zacher plea agreement, Nov. 8, 2006
  13. ^ Block plea agreement, Nov. 9, 2006
  14. ^ Paul Plea, Nov. 8, 2006
  15. ^ Construction and Apllication of Federal Domestic Terrorism Sentencing Enhancement
  16. ^ Notes from Terrorism Enhancement Hearing, May 15, 2007
  17. ^ "Man sentenced to seven years for ecoterrorism fires". KOMO (Radio & TV station, Seattle). AP. Jun 4, 2007. Retrieved 3 November 2010. 
  18. ^ Harris, Shane (July 13, 2007). "The Terrorism Enhancement: An obscure law stretches the definition of terrorism, and metes out severe punishments". National Journal. Retrieved 3 November 2010. 
  19. ^ McGowan, Daniel (June 8, 2009). "Tales from Inside the U.S. Gitmo". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2 September 2010. 
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Jailed Environmentalist Daniel McGowan Released to Halfway House". Democracy Now. December 12, 2012. Retrieved December 15, 2012. 
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ Merlan, Anna (September 25, 2013). "Daniel McGowan: The FBI's Least Wanted". The Village Voice. Retrieved September 25, 2013. 

External links

  • Radio interview of McGowan following sentencing - on Democracy Now!, June 11, 2007 (audio and print transcript)
  • Department of Justice press release of the arrest
  • McGowan's plea agreement
  • Civil Liberties Defense Center
  • Green is the new Red
  • FBI's Operation Backfire
  • Eugene Weekly: Who are the real terrorists?
  • Operational Backfire - Criminalizing Dissent by Michael Donnelly
  • Los Angeles TimesCrying Terrorist by Patt Morrison,
  • Brooklyn RailGovernment Charges Local Man As Eco-Terrorist in
  • Support site for Daniel McGowan

Criticism of prosecution

On June 28, the government arraigned Nathan Block, Joyanna Zacher, McGowan and Jonathan Paul on a 65-count superseding indictment. All four pleaded not guilty.

The Oregon indictment charged certain defendants with arson, attempted arson, and using and carrying a destructive device. The destructive device charge carried a 30-year mandatory sentence and a life sentence for a second conviction.

On January 20, federal prosecutors, the head of the FBI, and US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales held a press conference announcing a 65-count indictment against 11 individuals relating to 17 different incidents in Oregon, Washington and California. In addition to the six arrested on December 7, the Oregon indictment also named Jonathan Paul, Suzanne Savoie, Joseph Dibee, Rebecca Rubin and Josephine Overaker.

On December 7, 2005, one of the largest arrests of environmental activists in American history began. Using the code name Operation Backfire, the FBI arrested six people. Chelsea Gerlach, William Rodgers, Kendall Tankersley, Kevin Tubbs, McGowan and Stanislas Meyerhoff were arrested for allegedly taking part in a wide variety of crimes, including arson and domestic terrorism.[6] Meyerhoff agreed to be a federal cooperating witness almost immediately. On December 22, Rodgers was found dead in his cell in Flagstaff, Arizona, from an apparent suicide.

Arrest and Operation Backfire

a nonprofit group that helps women in domestic abuse situations navigate the legal system. [5]

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