FBI Harasses Activists in Florida; Two Indicted on Federal Charges for Jane’s Revenge Actions

Miami, FL – On May 8, 2022, as the world waited anxiously for the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade to drop, anonymous vandals smashed in the window of the Wisconsin Family Action building in Madison, Wisconsin and set the building ablaze. On the wall of the building, they scrawled the message, “If abortions aren’t safe then you aren’t either.”

The back of a so-called “crisis pregnancy center” in Winter Haven, Florida is spray painted following the Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs, June 16, 2022. Photo by Rebecca Klein via The Ledger

“This was only a warning,” wrote the attackers in an anonymous communique sent to journalist Robert Evans. “We demand the disbanding of all anti-choice establishments, fake clinics, and violent anti-choice groups within the next thirty days.”

The arson and communique sent shock waves through the country and inspired a coast-to-coast campaign of more than 20 acts of sabotage and vandalism on the infrastructure of the anti-abortion movement — mostly against so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) and churches involved in anti-abortion activism.

More than nine months later, the federal government has announced the first prosecutions of Jane’s Revenge vandals. But the two indicted on federal charges aren’t accused of burning down any buildings, or even smashing any windows.

They’re accused of graffiti.

Caleb Freestone and Amber Smith-Stewart, two community organizers in Florida, have been charged with one count each of Conspiracy Against Rights and two counts each of Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances, a law designed to prevent the blockading of abortion clinic entrances and the intimidation of those seeking abortions.

The indictment alleges that on May 28, June 26, and July 3, 2022 the pair spray painted slogans on the outside of three anti-choice centers reading, “If abortions aren’t safe niether are you” [sic], “Your time is up!! We’re coming for U” and “We are everywhere.”

The sign for the LifeChoice Pregnancy Center in Winter Haven, Florida is tagged with an anarchist Circle-A symbol June 26, 2022. Photo by Rebecca Klein via The Ledger.

For the past month, Freestone, Smith-Stewart and four other local activists have faced a campaign of targeted harassment from the FBI, according to several sources familiar with the incidents. FBI agents raided Smith-Stewart’s house on January 23. A week later, agents raided the home of another local activist as well. 

At 6 a.m. on February 1, FBI agents claiming to have a no-knock warrant threw flash bang grenades and pointed automatic rifles at the activist and two teenage children who were also in the home at the time. Agents led the family out of the house at gunpoint. As of this writing, about a month later, the activist whose home was raided on February 1 has not formally been charged with anything.

FBI Agents have also shown up at activists’ places of employment, attempted to solicit information from activists’ parents, and sent at least one “target letter” indicating that the federal prosecutor involved in the case believes that the person either committed a crime or has information about a crime. One person was fired from their job shortly after the FBI visit.

Two of the agents involved in harassing the Florida activists are Special Agent Steven May and Special Agent Timothy Taylor. 

Several activists and community organizers in Florida described living in fear, not knowing if they’ll be the next to be awoken at daybreak to the sound of flash bang grenades and the shouts of cops with rifles. “If a raid is gonna happen, I just want it to happen and be over with,” said one activist. 

Activists familiar with the incidents have called it a “fishing operation,” in which agents, lacking any actual evidence, harass people and search their homes in hopes of getting someone to talk.

The Civil Liberties Defense Center, an Oregon-based nonprofit law firm specializing in criminal defense of activists, is representing Smith-Stewart in the case. “If convicted of the offenses, these two activists each face up to a maximum of 12 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and fines of up to $350,000,” wrote CLDC staff attorney Sarah Alvarez in a statement shared with Unicorn Riot. “The allegations against our client amount to spray painted graffiti.”

In compiling its case, the FBI may be relying upon tips from far-right internet trolls. On January 26, three days after the raid on Smith-Stewart’s home, far-right, Proud Boy-connected social media troll Linda Catalina celebrated the indictments of Freestone and Smith-Stewart on the podcast she co-hosts with Isabella Rodriguez, claiming she had turned the pair in to the “clinic,” who passed the information on to the FBI.

“We knew who this guy was, we identified him, by the way,” said Catalina. “We sent it to the owners of Heartbeat Center, so you have us to thank if you go to jail and other people in the community who helped.”

Last week, Catalina posted on her Instagram that she was helping the anti-abortion center raise “$10,000 to open up their 5th pregnancy clinic in Homestead, FL. Since 2007, Heartbeat of Miami has saved over 60,000 babies from ab*rtion.” [sic]

What Catalina may not be aware of is that when Donald Trump was president, he made changes to Title X, allowing for crisis pregnancy centers “to qualify for this federal ‘family planning’ funding.” And in 2019, “the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded $1.7 million in Title X funds to the California fake clinic chain Obria Group and an additional $1.7 million for each of the grant’s subsequent two years,” according to the Expose Fake Clinics national initiative. 

Title X was created in 1970 to provide federal funding for comprehensive and confidential family planning services and preventive health care, prioritizing people and families with low-incomes. Under the Trump administration, the purpose of Title X shifted from “acceptable and effective method[s] of family planning” to limiting “access to essential health care and information,” according to Physicians for Reproductive Health.

Despite their obvious dedication to political goals rather than reproductive health, the FBI apparently considers Heartbeat of Miami and other similar entities to be “reproductive health” centers under federal law. Now, for the first time in its history, continuing the legacy of the Trump administration, they’re targeting pro-choice activists with a federal law designed to protect abortion clinics from anti-abortion attacks.  

Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act

In order to indict the two alleged graffiti artists on federal charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has leveraged a law created under the Clinton administration called the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, known as FACE, which prohibits in part “intentionally injuring, intimidating, or interfering with,” any person from “obtaining or providing reproductive health services.”

Dr. Susan Mezey, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Loyola University Chicago, studies reproductive rights and public policy. Dr. Mezey explained that FACE was created in response to a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the Court refused to order federal injunctions against individuals who were harassing patients and staff at abortion clinics. Realizing the need to update federal law to protect the facilities, the U.S. Congress passed FACE in 1994.

According to Dr. Mezey, the legislation has been effective in pushing back on right-wing violence. “There is research that shows that there were fewer attacks after the legislation than before the legislation, and that the legislation seemed to have stopped most of the violent protests [against abortion clinics],” Dr. Mezey said. “Needless to say, any prosecutions that arose, arose against anti-abortion protesters.”

Dr. Mezey said that the law was written to be “viewpoint neutral.” In other words, it specifically targets neither those who want abortion to be legal, nor those who want it to be illegal. However, “the clear intent of the law was to make abortion providers accessible to women seeking abortions and to prevent the type of activity that was going on by the hundreds by anti-abortion activists,” Dr. Mezey explained.

As far as she knows, this is the first time FACE has been used to prosecute pro-choice activists.

“I don’t see how this fits in with the language of FACE,” said Dr. Mezey, referring to the vandalism Freestone and Smith-Stewart are accused of, “which is to ‘injure, interfere with, intimidate.’ None of that seems to be happening [here].”  

The use of FACE legislation against the Florida activists hinges on the language “reproductive health services,” an ambiguous term that may have been clearer at the time the legislation was written. Although the legislators who created the law were intending to protect abortion clinics, since the law was passed, anti-abortion forces have proliferated a national network of CPCs claiming to provide reproductive health services.

“Such clinics are relatively new,” said Dr. Mezey, “most didn’t exist when FACE was passed.” 

The first network of anti-abortion “pregnancy clinics” was founded in 1968, but their spread has increased since the mid-90s due in large part to support from Republican administrations, said Dr. Mezey.

“They have been given federal money, certainly during the Trump administration and under other Republican administrations, even though many of them freely admit they’re opposed to abortion and try to turn women who come to their doors against having an abortion.”

Dr. Susan Mezey

Many such “clinics,” including the Respect Life Center in Hollywood, Florida, which Freestone and Smith-Stewart are accused of spray painting, do not even attempt to hide their anti-abortion political agenda. Their website contains selective information implying that abortion is both dangerous and traumatic.

“Abortion is a traumatic pregnancy loss,” the website reads. “The wound caused by abortion often remains unhealed and becomes a secret sorrow carried alone and without support.”

Crisis pregnancy centers can cause those seeking abortions to delay much-needed abortions, says Dr. Mezey. Under new abortion laws that impose strict time limits for legal abortions, such delays can lead to patients being unable to get abortions they need.

“Women seeking abortions who go to these places have to wait for a legally mandated ultrasound, and have to wait for a legally mandated physician’s lecture,” said Dr. Mezey. “And thus the time limit goes by. I think that’s terrible.”

Dr. Mezey said she’s not sure if graffiti has ever been charged federally, but if so, she’s never heard of it. “I’m sure there are Florida laws making it just a misdemeanor to deface property, so I don’t understand why the federal government has to get involved.”

Community organizers in Florida are asking themselves the same question. 

“These protesters’ actions are as close to non-violence as you can get,” said Dr. Mezey. “Technically, I believe they broke the law. But I think there is a great imbalance of moral culpability. I think these people are reacting to a terrible decision by the Supreme Court in Dobbs. I understand their frustration.”

Alex Binder contributed to this report for Unicorn Riot.

Editor’s Note: In our reporting, some quotes refer to people who have abortions as “women,” and it is important for us to note that we at Unicorn Riot know that women are not the only gender/type of people who can become pregnant and have abortions.

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