Thanks to the Partnership for Civil Justice‘s FOIA request, we now know that the FBI has been surveilling the Occupy movement since August of 2011 (before there was any occupation). For anybody who’s ever been part of any activist movement with traction, this confirms what they already inuited was true–ever since the days of COINTELPRO it has been clear that government actors would attempt to infiltrate (and sabotage) peace and social justice movements once they began to gain importance. But the scale and intensity of the attention directed toward Occupy from its pre-public days should give civil libertarians some pause. And the point (which no one has really tackled, not even ‘liberal’ outlets like MSNBC) is that the information was being turned over to private entities like Goldman Sachs. Do you really want Lloyd Blankfein to know your name and address and protest activities?
Most Americans who know anything about COINTELPRO (the FBI’s programmatic, systemic attempt to disrupt peace and social justice movements by petty harassment and through sowing distrust among group membership) think that it was ended back in the days after the death of J Edgar Hoover. But many of its activities were codified and legalized by executive order in 1981,with other provisions changed and updated in by President Bush in July 2009. The FBI has been implicated in continuing infiltration of activist groups of all sorts since the 1970’s. CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) was both infiltrated and treated as a terrorist organization by the Bureau. FBI manager Jack Ryan was fired when he refused to investigate the Plowshares and other peace groups in Illinois. The late Judi Bari (organizer of the ‘Redwood Summer‘ protests and attempts to save forests from timber companies) had successfully opened a suit against the FBI after there had been an assassination attempt against her. A bomb placed in her car under her car seat nearly killed her–and when the FBI showed up, rather than treating the evidence as proof of assassination, they arrested her and her driving companion Darryl Cherney and attempted to frame them for the bombing. Her lawsuit agains the FBI had been upheld by a number of courts. And there has been a concerted effort by the FBI to destroy the evidence they obtained trying to prosecute Bari and Cherney.
You can read the FBI’s (heavily redacted) files about Occupy Wall Street on the Partnership’s website or just click here. Not holiday reading. But I want to draw your attention to page 61, which I’ve excerpted up top (you can enlarge the text by clicking on the picture). Someone was planning to identify, photograph and assassinate Occupy leaders. Because of the sections that have been redacted, t’s not clear whether this was the FBI or a third party. It might have been someone outside the intelligence community–the banks and corporate entities that Occupy was targeting certainly would have been interested in seeing the movement go away, and it isn’t like the Wall Streeters don’t have some spare cash sitting around. This revelation, coming as it does on top of the information about the Department of Homeland Security’s nationwide phone conferences coordinating efforts against the Occupy movement, gives pause. And it’s why I brought up Judi Bari’s case in the context of these revelations about assassination.
Remember too that the existence of COINTELPRO wasn’t put forward by the FBI voluntarily–it was discovered when a leftist group found files about the program in 1971. This was the high tide of citizen distrust of government about the continuing war in Vietnam and the revelations of Pentagon Papers. And in the post-Watergate era, it was clear that a rogue President working with a rogue FBI could do incalculable damage. What is the current public temperature about protesters and protests? Would it be enough to cause the sorts of inquiries that culminated in the Church Committee Hearings in the mid 1970’s?
We now are back to square one–we have rogue agencies working for a president who’s not particularly concerned with constitutional niceties. Those agencies’ actions pose a long-term threat to the viability of the United States as a democratic republic in order to serve the interests of what Citi Group referred to as the ‘plutonomy‘. What should one do (besides donating money to the hard-working people at Partnership for Civil Justice, for example)?
I think the way is shown by Edward Abbey–novelist, environmentalist, and inspiration for Earth FIRST and the Redwood Summer. “A Patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government”.