No Compromise Snitch Lessons
from No Compromise Issue 22

It’s useful to examine a case like that of Tami Wheeler to see how a seemingly well-intentioned activist can be reduced to testifying against her friends. This represents a series of painful lessons all activists should heed. The good news is that the vast majority of activists recognize the inherent harm in talking to law enforcement. But when even one activist becomes a snitch, it’s one too many.

Lesson 1: Loose Lips Sink Ships

Wheeler’s decision to take her attorney’s advice to consider a deal with prosecutors that would involve her providing any kind of information to them violated one of the most fundamental rules of activism - the golden rule of Silence.

It simply cannot be stressed enough that, other than identifying yourself if arrested, you are under no obligation to talk to law enforcement agents. You have a right to remain silent, so use it! Failing to do so not only jeopardizes yourself but also puts your fellow activists at risk, and can end up having an impact on our entire movement.

Even answering questions that seem completely harmless can end up landing people in jail or can assist the agents in developing personality profiles of activists and structural diagrams of activist groups. But the full scope of the damage you may do simply can’t be known. For example, confirming that an activist was in town attending a protest on a particular day may turn out to be a key fact in building a case against her for having taken part in a separate action under investigation.

Even if the information you 0give to law enforcement agents is not used as evidence, it can still be very damaging. It can give law enforcement leads, provide the basis for issuing a subpoena to another activist, or be used to help construct “intent” for an activist facing trial. Another common ploy used by law enforcement is to try to convince an activist that the agents already know everything. Don’t believe the hype! Even if agents do “know” something, that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be admissible in a court of law (unless, of course, you help them corroborate it!).

Lesson 2: Don’t put too much trust in lawyers

When facing serious charges it is, of course, important to retain legal representation. At the same time, it’s also important to recognize that most lawyers will not give a second thought to the good of the movement or your fellow activists. Many won’t even put your own interests ahead of their own-- many attorneys will simply look for a quick settlement so they can move on to other cases; others may try to pressure activists into testifying against their comrades “for their own good.”

Finding a lawyer who will respect your desire to protect your colleagues and stay true to your beliefs thus becomes essential. Attorneys for the National Lawyers Guild tend to understand this, and they are generally worth contacting. Alternatively, you can contact No Compromise at 831-425-3007 or for assistance in finding a movement attorney in your area.

Lesson 3: Reach out to movement experts

There’s a natural desire, when facing government harassment, to reach out to your friends and comrades for advice about how to deal with the situation. However, it’s incredibly important to make sure you not only talk to people you know and trust, but also to our movement’s experts in dealing with these types of cases. For referrals to movement experts to consult with, please contact No Compromise (see above).

Lesson 4: Agreements to snitch can have devastating personal effects

Another clear lesson from Wheeler’s case is that, once you are arrested, circumstances may change dramatically. Wheeler and Brasfield had no idea prior to their arrest that they might be charged with felonies for their actions. Thus, making an agreement to let others testify against you if they’re arrested may turn out to have effects you never dreamed of.

While Brasfield’s eight and a half months in jail was no picnic, many activists are sentenced to far worse. Imagine for a moment that you and a couple of friends had decided to torch a few SUVs. Unfortunately, you are all arrested and find yourselves facing Criminal Mischief charges, which carry a maximum sentence of one year. Feeling noble, you volunteer to take all the heat for it and urge your friends to testify against you. The next thing you know, you find the charges against you have been changed to include multiple felonies. Suddenly the maximum possible sentence changes to over 100 years!

The bottom line? The facts of a case can change, and to make an agreement ahead of time that it’s OK for others to testify against you is to invite disaster.

Furthermore, without a clear ‘No Compromise’ mind-set, it becomes far too easy for the police or F.B.I. to intimidate a person into making decisions under duress while his or her judgment is impaired. Our movement-wide policy of no snitching– ever —no matter the circumstances, precludes such dilemmas and their potentially devastating fallout when mistakes are made.

Lesson 5: Agreements to snitch hurt our movement

Beyond potential grievous personal effects from so-called snitch agreements, our movement cannot afford to accept such agreements. If a person who is arrested claims to have been granted permission to snitch on a friend, there’s no way for us, as a movement, to verify this while that friend is on the run. This could then pressure the activist who is not in custody to come out of hiding long enough to verify or debunk the alleged agreement. An activist might even feel guilted into saying it was alright for a comrade to testify against him or her. Allowing such pressures would hinder direct action, and this is simply unacceptable.

When law enforcement agencies see us give up our friends, they see it as a weakness they can exploit. Accepting ‘agreements to snitch’ would make us appear a weak movement of snitches, whose activists only need to be leaned on harder to make them cave. It is only by embracing a security culture over a snitch culture that our movement will successfully continue its brilliant history of carrying out liberations and economic sabotage actions.

Lesson 6: If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime!

If you’re going to participate in illegal action, you have to go into it with the understanding that the action may fail and that you may end up in jail for years. With careful planning this isn’t likely, but it’s still something one must prepare for. If you can’t even stomach the thought of spending a few months in jail, you do not belong in a campaign group in this day and age of government repression.

So shape up, and think about why you’re really in this movement and what it really means to you. Isn’t helping to save animals from torture worth spending some time in jail? But, don’t kid yourself about it. If you aren’t willing to do the time, don’t do the crime!

Lesson 7: There’s no place in the movement for snitches

Sadly, someone who becomes a snitch by implicating other activists to law enforcement agents as having participated in illegal/underground actions simply can never be trusted again. Violating such a deep-seated trust demonstrates a fundamental lack of commitment to the movement. Once such a trust has been violated, there’s no way to ensure that it will not happen again, unless we ostracize the snitch from our movement.

While in some cases it may be tempting to afford a remorseful snitch the benefit of the doubt and give him or her a second chance, it is imperative that we recognize how much harm this could do. Letting a snitch back in the movement could jeopardize other activists who don’t realize what s/he is capable of. Even if a snitch sticks purely to above-ground activism, it’s all too likely s/he will end up passing on harmful information yet again. After finding initial success with a particular source, law enforcement agents will likely continue to work on prying more information out of the snitch.

Furthermore, forgiving snitches would send a message that one can simply testify against a fellow activist to get a lighter sentence, and then simply be forgiven afterwards with no real consequences. Not only would this promote a ‘snitch culture,’ but it would also send a message to underground activists that the above ground movement won’t be there to support them and do what little we can to try to prevent anyone from snitching on them.

Law enforcement agencies certainly believe the old adage “once a snitch, always a snitch,” and we would be foolish not to take it very seriously ourselves.