Beltane is a Gaelic holiday marking the beginning of summer. The first communique sent by the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), in 1997, stated it was sent on Beltane. And now two days before the summer solstice, Briana Waters today will be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Tacoma by Judge Franklin Burgess for her role as lookout during a 2001 arson at the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture. The end is in sight for the government's "Operation Backfire."
The prosecution is recommending Waters serve a sentence of 10 years in prison, five years probation, and somehow pay $7 million in restitution to the University of Washington. While there are allegations in the prosecution's sentencing memorandum that Waters participated in a second arson that year in Susanville, Calif., she was never charged with it, and it is not likely that Mark Bartlett, the lead prosecutor, will call the witnesses necessary to prove it. It allegedly involved a Bureau of Land Management horse corral. The reason for including information about it is to substantiate prosecution assertions that the Center for Urban Horticulture was not an aberration in Waters' behavior. Rather, the government asserts, the Seattle arson was part of a pattern of criminal, if not terrorist, behavior.
Waters is seeking a minimal sentence of five years, suspending a large portion of it. In other words, she is seeking probation or home detention. If she is sent to prison, her defense team has requested placement in the prison located in Dublin, Calif., near Oakland and her daughter. However, the federal Bureau of Prisons has a policy of not housing co-defendants in the same facilities, and one defendant in the case is already at Dublin.
The 10-year recommendation is significantly greater than the sentences recommended for two key witnesses against Waters, Jennifer Kolar and Lacey Phillabaum, who are to be sentenced later this summer.
Once these sentencings are complete, the government will have finished prosecution of the so-called ELF "Family." With few exceptions, most of the members of this particular ELF cell will have been legally labeled "terrorists." Already, several are dealing with the consequences of that label during incarceration. Many of the inmates' communications, even with family members, are screened, and one inmate currently resides in a "special housing unit," also known as "the hole," because he has been labeled a terrorist. After they are released, conditions of probation include not communicating with each other or with radical environmental groups. While there are several loose ends (four members remain fugitives and Waters will begin a vigorous appeal once she is sentenced), it is safe to say Operation Backfire effectively burned "the Family."