Terrorism charges against RNC 8 to be dropped

The RNC 8 and supporters protested Dec. 2 outside a fundraiser for DFL gubernatorial candidate Susan Gaertner, who is also Ramsey County Attorney and head of the office prosecuting them. Gaertner's office dropped terrorism-related charges for the eight activists Thursday.

Ashley Goetz

The RNC 8 and supporters protested Dec. 2 outside a fundraiser for DFL gubernatorial candidate Susan Gaertner, who is also Ramsey County Attorney and head of the office prosecuting them. Gaertner’s office dropped terrorism-related charges for the eight activists Thursday.

More than seven months after their arrest, the Ramsey County AttorneyâÄôs Office dropped terrorism charges against the RNC 8 on Thursday morning. The activists, who police arrested preemptively before SeptemberâÄôs Republican National Convention , are accused of allegedly plotting to violently disrupt the convention. The terrorism enhancements to the conspiracy counts came under MinnesotaâÄôs version of the controversial PATRIOT Act. âÄúIt was becoming clear that the terrorism enhancement to the charges was going to be a major issue at trial,âÄù Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said, citing that the connotation of the word âÄúterrorismâÄù could distract the jury. The Legislature passed the law sanctioning the terrorism charges in 2002, during a time of national tension after 9/11. The statute âÄúclearly covers the alleged conduct here,âÄù Gaertner said, but whether it was meant to is another story. âÄúI do know that if they didnâÄôt mean it to apply in this case, they should amend the law,âÄù she said. The activists, including University of Minnesota student Max Specktor , still face felony charges of criminal conspiracy to riot and damage property that carry a penalty of more than 10 years in prison, if convicted. The dropped charges will have no impact on sentencing if the eight are ultimately convicted, Gaertner said. Rob Czernik , a member of the RNC 8, said the activists face a bigger challenge now to get the non-terrorism charges dropped. âÄúWeâÄôve been defining the charges based on the terrorism enhancement and now thatâÄôs gone,âÄù he said. âÄúHopefully people realize theyâÄôre charging us with the same stuff, just with different language.âÄù Specktor agreed, but said the decision to drop some charges and not others is sign that prosecutors are getting serious. âÄúIt kind of scares me because by dropping these two and only those two, itâÄôs like theyâÄôre saying that those are the only two to go,âÄù he said. âÄúTheyâÄôre actually trying to make a case that isnâÄôt as ridiculous.âÄù Attorney Jordan Kushner , who is representing RNC 8 member Luce Guillen-Givins , said although the âÄúextremely inflammatoryâÄù terrorism charges are to be dismissed, the charges that remain are significant and equally unfounded. âÄúTheyâÄôre accused of conspiring to commit illegal acts and in reality theyâÄôre being prosecuted for their political organizing activities,âÄù said Kushner, who graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School. Specktor said ThursdayâÄôs developments were a somewhat surprising step toward vindication. âÄúNot only are we saying the work we are doing isnâÄôt terrorism,âÄù he said, âÄúif we drop the other charges, then what we were doing isnâÄôt even a crime.âÄù The eight have said the terrorism enhancements, added to their battery of charges in December, were politically motivated. Czernik said politics also factored into the chargesâÄô dismissal. Gaertner last fall announced her gubernatorial bid and will be speaking at DFL events across the state in the coming months. âÄúThe timing for her was very politically expedient,âÄù Czernik said. âÄúThis is a very, very calculated move by her.âÄù Gaertner wouldnâÄôt comment on the timing of dropping the charges, except to say that the RNC 8 cases are complicated. âÄúThereâÄôs going to be ongoing investigation, ongoing preparation and ongoing evaluation of trial strategy,âÄù she said. âÄúAnd this is an example of that.âÄù The RNC 8 and their supporters have previously showed up to GaertnerâÄôs campaign functions and have called on DFL voters to consider the charges against the RNC 8 when considering who theyâÄôll endorse for governor. Calling his client and the other seven members of the RNC 8 âÄúpolitical pawns,âÄù Kushner cited public outcry directed toward Gaertner as a key factor in the dismissal of charges. âÄúThere just wasnâÄôt any way she could justify pursuing these kinds of charges,âÄù he said. âÄúAt the end it couldnâÄôt be politically justified, in part because it canâÄôt be legally justified.âÄù Gaertner has made no mention of politics in relation to the case, and when asked about the matter Thursday afternoon only spoke generally. âÄúThis case, as is true of many, is a no-win situation for the county attorney,âÄù she said. âÄúSomebody is going to be unhappy with whatever decision you make, that comes with the territory.âÄù âÄî Karlee Weinmann is a senior staff reporter.