My Student is a Sociologist, Not a Terrorist

by Will Potter on December 7, 2009

in Terrorism Court Cases

david_pellowThe following is a guest essay written by David Naguib Pellow, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota and faculty advisor of Scott DeMuth:

On November 17, 2009, Scott DeMuth was jailed for contempt of court, since he refused to answer questions posed to him by a federal grand jury in Davenport, Iowa. They were interested in questioning him about his knowledge of an unsolved Animal Liberation Front action in 2004 at the University of Iowa. Scott is a University of Minnesota graduate student and Dakota language student. Scott took a principled stand against the grand jury and paid for it with a contempt charge and, two days later, a charge of conspiracy to commit “animal enterprise terrorism.”

As a sociologist and Scott’s faculty advisor at the University of Minnesota, I am concerned about this case for many reasons. Scott is being targeted because he is a scholar who does research on some of the most important social movement struggles in our society and because of his affiliations with many such activists. In his work, he has researched and/or interviewed numerous activists from Native American struggles for sovereignty and land, and environmental and animal liberation movements in the U.S. Unfortunately, Scott is only the most recent scholar facing state repression whose research focuses on peoples’ movements. The U.S. boasts a long and shameful history of silencing and disciplining academics whose research and teaching emphasize the importance of collective efforts to effect radical social change. In recent years, professors studying various peoples’ movements (including the ones Scott focuses on) have been censored, demoted, fired, and jailed here in the U.S. This is an issue of academic freedom and I believe we should support scholars like Scott because of the importance of this kind of work for rethinking our history and for reimagining what kind of futures we can create for ourselves.

My own research on movements for racial justice, labor rights, environmental justice, and animal and earth liberation suggests quite clearly that the state and corporations spare no expense and rarely hesitate to engage in surveillance, infiltration, and other efforts to neutralize the power and reach of these groups. As a publicly outspoken scholar and activist, Scott DeMuth is at the center of these dynamics and is quickly becoming a force for common ground among people across various movements, organizations, and universities who believe that government power should always be checked and that scholars, citizens, activists, and ordinary folks must enjoy basic rights and freedom from coercion and repression. Support Scott, protect academic freedom, and let’s work to abolish the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act!

Sign a petition supporting Scott Demuth and academic freedom.

David Naguib Pellow is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota where he teaches courses on social movements, environmental justice, globalization, immigration, and race and ethnicity. His books include:
The Treadmill of Production: Injustice and Unsustainability in the Global Economy, Resisting Global Toxics: Transnational Movements for Environmental Justice, and Garbage Wars.

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