Marius Mason is a transgender, environmental and animal rights activist. In 1999, in the name of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) he set fire to a lab at the University of Michigan that was conducting research on genetically modified organisms (GMO). After Marius’ husband turned states-evidence, Marius was threatened with a life sentence for the arson and other acts of sabotage. With little financial stability and fear of dragging his family into a costly legal battle, Marius pled guilty and was given an extreme sentence of nearly 22 years. No one was ever harmed in any of his actions.
Marius lived and worked in the Detroit area for most of his life. Like the late Earth First! (EF!) organizer, Judi Bari, he was part of a generation of radicals who worked to link the environmental and labor movements, and was jointly active in both EF! and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). It was this alliance which led to the initial success of the anti-globalization movement such as at the 1999 anti-WTO demonstration in Seattle. Mason was an editor of the Industrial Worker, the IWW newspaper, and a musician who recorded a neo-folk album, Not For Profit, with fellow EF!er Darryl Cherney in 1999. He also worked with numerous political as well as traditional charity groups.
In addition to his work with the IWW and Earth First!, he is also an avid community gardener, a musician, a writer, and a volunteer for a free herbal healthcare collective. He also was an extended care assistant at a small Cincinnati school when he was arrested on March 10, 2008 by federal agents.
He was charged with involvement with a December,1999 arson at a Michigan State University genetics laboratory at Agriculture Hall and a January, 2000 arson of logging equipment in Mesick, Michigan. Both arsons were claimed by the Earth Liberation Front.
Government Monitors and Harasses Marius
In the years preceding Marius’s’s arrest, he and his partner at the time, Frank Ambrose, had been questioned multiple times by authorities, summoned to grand juries, and forced to surrender DNA evidence; at one point authorities attempted to affix a GPS tracking unit to Mason’s car.
Partner Turns Informant
In early 2007, Frank Ambrose became an informant with the FBI. He began traveling throughout the Midwest spying on activists and tape recording their conversations with a concealed wire. He filed for a divorce the day Marius was arrested. He even tried to entrap other activists with emails he circulated and has now offered to give workshops to law enforcement on topics such as the Earth Liberation Front and security culture. He was released from prison in 2015, after serving only 6 years.
Marius is currently serving the longest sentence of any environmental activist in the US. His charges are part of the Green Scare, a trend by the government of labeling environmental direct action as “eco-terrorism” despite the acts ensuring that no life, human or otherwise, is being harmed. In addition to labeling environmental activists both publicly and legally as “terrorists,” the government also charges activists with inflated sentences. In Marius’s case, he was facing a life sentence. He decided to plea guilty and is now serving nearly 22 years in prison.
Unlike many Green Scare arrestees, Marius was never given the option of a full non-cooperating plea agreement by the government, which would have allowed him to plea guilty without implicating others. Instead he faced either the original life sentence or a reduced sentence on the condition that he confirm statements that his partner turned FBI informant, Frank Ambrose, had already stated.
Because he would not be offering any new evidence implicating other activists, Marius decided to take the plea.
Mason eventually admitted to committing 14 acts of property destruction together. One of these actions, an attempt to destroy the Nestle-owned Ice Mountain bottled water pumping station, had always been denied by Mason, and activists close to him speculate that he was forced to accept guilt for it in order to accept the plea bargain. (It is a common police tactic to force defendants to accept blame for unsolved crimes in order to close investigations.)
Mason accepted a plea bargain for 15–20 years, but Chief US District Judge Paul L. Maloney sentenced him to 21 years and 10 months and ordered restitution of $4.1 million to the sites damaged by his acts. Part of Mason’s plea agreement stipulated that he had to accept the so-called Terrorism Enhancement designation, which provided for broad discretion in sentencing. (Before the sentencing, people close to Mason speculated that he might receive as long as 30 years.) The judge was able to consider the 12 other actions Mason admitted to (but was not being charged with) for the purpose of his sentencing.