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Wearing a tight cardigan over an untucked purple shirt, Erik Oseland looked ready for an indie-rock concert rather than an appearance in court. Judge Teresa Warner peered down at him from her perch and asked if he had come to the decision on his own.
"Yes," Oseland said.
"How do you plead to the complaint occurring in the City of St. Paul?" she asked.
"Uh . . . guilty."
No one could have predicted this was how it would end for the young anarchist. Since he and seven others were arrested and charged with conspiracy to riot before and during the Republican National Convention, they've stuck together in solidarity as the "RNC 8." They snubbed plea agreements and gloated when Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner backed off of charging them with crimes in the furtherance of terrorism.
But with the group's trial looming less than two months away, the dirty-blond 23-year-old separated himself from the united front. He declared he would not go to the trial that the RNC 8 always maintained would prove their innocence.
Raised in Nisswa, a quaint town two-and-a-half hours north of the Twin Cities, Oseland got into politics through punk rock. At 16, he started a band and began writing songs about "self liberation," according to his profile on the RNC 8 website.
Emerging from the basement rock shows of Nisswa, Oseland drove to Washington, D.C., in 2007 and joined the protests of the IMF World Bank. By the time he got back to Nisswa, he'd decided to get involved with protesting the 2008 Republican National Convention.
Oseland moved to Minneapolis and attended meetings of the anarchist RNC Welcoming Committee. It was there that he met the seven activists who would become his codefendants.
Sheriff's informants took notice of Oseland in January. The next month, he posted a YouTube clip called "Video Map of the St. Paul Points of Interest," which contained shaky shots of the hotels and banks around the Xcel Energy Center, according to the authorities.
From July 31 to August 3, 2008, Oseland and four other RNC 8 members attended an "action camp" in Lake Geneva, where attendees slashed the tires of mock delegate vehicles and threw water bottles representing Molotov cocktails, according to informants, who quoted Oseland promising that "we will not fuck around and will actively do something."
Oseland never got the chance to make good on his promise. On August 29, 2008, the RNC Welcoming Committee's "Convergence Center" in St. Paul was raided. The next morning, at around 8 a.m., sheriff's deputies and the FBI stormed three homes in south Minneapolis. Police arrested Nathanael Secor at Rob Czernik's house on 23rd Ave. South, and Garrett Fitzgerald, Monica Bicking, and Eryn Trimmer were zip-tied on the floor of their house on 17th Ave.
That same morning, the authorities went looking for Oseland. It's rumored he was with an informant named Andrew Darst. The quiet, slightly paunchy man nicknamed "Panda" supposedly told law enforcement where to find them.
Not long after they were released, the eight banded together and lawyered up. The RNC 8 established a single legal-defense fund and raised more than $100,000. They conducted media interviews and speaking engagements all over the country.
Meanwhile, Oseland stayed in the background. He didn't do as many appearances as the others. He was seldom, if ever, quoted in articles. Several months ago, he left south Minneapolis and moved to Milwaukee.
From the Oseland family home in Nisswa, Erik's father says his son didn't want to stay tied up with the case. "He's not with this movement. He just got caught up in it."
While the criminal complaint says the other seven members attended 45 to 65 Welcoming Committee meetings, Oseland attended only 20. RNC 8 members say the number was even lower.
"He didn't really choose to work with us in the first place," says Fitzgerald.
The group also says it was clear throughout the last two years that Oseland would consider taking a plea. In early August, he told the rest of the group that his attorney, Ted Dooley, would be working out a deal with prosecutors.
"What it boils down to is he just wants to move on with his life," says RNC 8 member Luce Guillen-Givins.
Which is why Oseland pleaded guilty last Friday to a gross misdemeanor. He confessed to planning to shove newspaper boxes to disrupt traffic in the area of the Xcel Center during the convention, with damages pegged at between $250 and $500.
In the hushed courtroom, Dooley read the terms of his plea agreement aloud. Oseland answered that he understood each with a clipped, "Yes."
Then Dooley asked, "You will not be called to testify in any Republican National Convention criminal matter, do you understand that?"
"Clearly," said Oseland, in a deliberate tone.
Dooley paused. "That's a critical part of this, is it not?"
"Yes," said Oseland.
Warner sentenced Oseland to 91 days in the workhouse, commencing October 20, and a $100 fine.
Outside, RNC 8 members Max Specktor and Fitzgerald told reporters they're still resolved to go to trial as the RNC 7.
After the crowd left, Oseland, his mom, and his attorneys walked outside into the late afternoon sun. They were mobbed by a television camera and microphones.
"Erik, any comment?" a TV reporter yelled.
"No," Oseland said flatly, shielding his face.
The camera crew pursued. "Any regrets?" the TV reporter asked. "Sad you'll be missing out on the fun?"
The cameraman whipped around and bumped Oseland's mom in the back of the head. She pushed the butt of the camera away.
"Don't touch the camera," the TV reporter snapped.
On the corner, Oseland looked marooned. Then he broke into a mirthless smirk. The moment passed. Oseland faded into the crowd.
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