Profile of Researcher Who Spent Six Months in Jail to Protect Rodney Coronado

This month Alta Mira press published Skidmore College professor Rik Scarce’s book Contempt of Court: A Scholar’s Battle for Free Speech from Behind Bars describing the six months Scarce spent in jail for refusing to testify to a grand jury about his interviews with Rodney Coronado.

When he was a doctoral student at Washington State University, Scarce interviewed Coronado as part of research he was doing for his book, Eco-Warriors. Apparently, Scarce liked to keep his friend close and his research subjects closer, as Coronado was house-sitting for Scarce when the Animal Liberation Front broke into a lab at Washington State in 1991 and caused more about $150,000 in damages.

Not surprisingly, Scarce was subpoenaed in 1993 to testify before the grand jury investigating the Washington State attack. When he refused to answer questions put to him by the grand jury, U.S. District Court Judge William Fremming ordered Scarce jailed for contempt of court. Scarce remained imprisoned for 159 days when the judge decided further incarceration was unlikely to lead to Scarce testifying.

The Washington State University break-in was never solved.

Scarce’s story is, of course, interesting in part due to the recent jailing of New York Time’s reporter Judith Miller over her refusal to divulge information about sources to a grand jury investigating the disclosure of a CIA agent’s identity. This writer believes that there should simply be no shield protecting journalists or researchers from divulging information in the investigation of a crime. Scarce’s position is even more ridiculous, given that he clearly had a personal relationship with Coronado beyond any interviews he did with Coronado for his research (in fact, Scarce refused to even testify if he’d ever had any confidential conversations with Coronado, much less what those conversations might have included).

Scarce deserved the censure and imprisonment he received for trying to shield Coronado.

In an odd twist, after receiving his PhD, Scarce ended up teaching for a while at Michigan State University — Coronado, of course, was ultimately convicted of firebombing at lab at the university.

But Coronado’s subsequent conviction and advocacy of violence don’t stop Scarce and Coronado from getting together when the two appear the same animal rights extremist conferences. According to a 2004 State News article,

Last year, Scarce was reacquainted with Coronado for the first time in more than 10 years at a “Revolutionary Environmentalism” conference in California.

. . .

At that conference, Scarce spent about an hour with Coronado in his hotel room, getting reacquainted.

“We had just the most wonderful talk,” Scarce said. “He is continuing to think deeply about the environmental movement and what it is all about.”

Yeah, that must have been a scintillating conversation.

Sources:

‘Scared to death,’ but kept his word. Dennis Yusko, Times Union, July 22, 2005.

Can Scholars Protect Confidential Sources? Peter Monaghan, The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 7, 1999.

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