Daniel McGowan, a 38-year-old environmental activist from Queens, was released yesterday from prison in Terra Haute, Indiana. He served seven years in the prison's Communications Management Unit, largely cut off from society, after attempting to burn down two Oregon lumber companies, Superior Lumber and Jefferson Poplar Farms, in 2001.
According to the New York City Anarchist Black Cross
, McGowan was greeted in Indiana by his wife, whom he was permitted to hug for the first time since being transferred to the Communications Management Unit in Indiana.
McGowan was chiefly affiliated with the Earth Liberation Front, a sprawling, leaderless group of guerrilla fighters active in 17 countries around the world. They physically attack corporations through property damage that they deem are exploiting the Earth through things like logging, SUV sales, and urban development for profit. The FBI named the Front the country's number one domestic terrorist threat in 2001. No one was ever injured or killed during the Front's terrorist acts.
McGowan's seen in some circles as a martyr of sorts, a political prisoner who was arrested along with five others in late 2005 under the FBI's Operation Backfire and charged with, among other things, arson and domestic terrorism. One of the charged terrorists, Stanislas Meyerhoff, agreed to act as a federal cooperating witness. Another, William Rodgers, killed himself in his cell. McGowan and the three remaining defendants agreed to plea deals when faced with spending the rest of their lives behind bars. McGowan pled to one count of conspiracy and two counts of arson.
"They wanted to give him 330 years for burning down two empty buildings," McGowan's sister, Lisa, told The New York Times
Under the country's terrorism enhancement provisions, McGowan was sentenced to spend most of his prison sentence in a Communication Management Unit. There are two CMUs in the country, specifically created to keep convicted terrorists from outside contact. Prisoners are allowed one visit a month, but visitors are separated from incarcerated by glass, and no touching of any kind is permitted. In this respect, CMUs are even more restrictive than supermax prisons, since they are only allotted a quarter of visiting time as supermax detainees. Most CMU prisoners are Muslim.
From Indiana, McGowan flew back to New York, where he was greeted by a small group of friends and family before continuing to his halfway house in New York, his home for the next six months as he works in the city. After that, he'll be under supervised released for the next three years.
"Welcome back, Daniel!" the Anarchist Black Cross wrote. "We love you!"
Last year, McGowan was a major subject in a documentary called If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front.