Wednesday, September 10, 2008
In the early morning hours there's a din in the air; mayhem's on the loose. Stormtroopers comin', and you better be prepared. Got no time to choose....
Comin' up that street, jackboots steppin' high. Got to make a stand. Looking in your windows and listen to your phone. Keep a gun in your hand....
Two hundred down, and it's comin' 'round again. Got no second choice. Where's the justice and where's that law. Raise your healthy voice.... Get ready. Stormtroopers comin'....
The recently concluded Republican National Convention in St. Paul served as the grand coming-out party for the Homeland Security State.
Its enforcers, fully panoplied in the military regalia that is rapidly becoming standard police attire, could be seen either strutting through the streets hungry to conduct a beat-down or marching to military cadences. Armored vehicles prowled the streets, while military helicopters rattled overhead. Several journalists, including Amy Goodman and two associates from the independent, left-leaning Democracy Now! media enterprise, were arrested and assaulted by police while covering protest marches.
Large sections of Minneapolis/St. Paul, a placid Midwestern American community, were made to resemble Baghdad under military occupation. As in Baghdad, homes in the Twin Cities were subjected to "pre-emptive" military raids on the eve of the Republican Convention. Beginning the night of Friday, August 29, multi-jurisdictional paramilitary police units armed with automatic weapons stormed residences where left-wing activists were billeted in anticipation of protest demonstrations.
More than one hundred people were handcuffed and questioned during those raids, many of them forced to lie face-down on the ground while officers searched for evidence of various purported plots to disrupt and "terrorize" the convention. According to Glenn Greenwald, a civil libertarian commentator who was on-site immediately after the raids, at least some of the police who conducted the raids couldn't resist tormenting helpless detainees with jocular talk about summary executions.
In total more than 800 people were arrested during convention-related demonstrations. The most significant of those arrests involved seven people detained during the pre-convention raids who were eventually charged with "conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism" under Minnesota's version of the PATRIOT (sic) Act.
Amerika, 2008: A riot policeman during the Republican National Convention in Minnesota's Twin Cities.
This is the first time American citizens have been accused, in a civilian court, of committing a crime "in furtherance" of terrorism. It will not be the last.
Some elements of the protest "community" that materialized in St. Paul were incontestably seeking a confrontation with the police as a form of ideological street theater.
While some consider this approach to be useless at best, it's not that different in principle from tactics perfected by Samuel Adams and like-minded patriots of our founding period.
Other street activists in the Twin Cities expressed their contempt for the criminal violence of the State by deliberately impeding peaceful commerce and destroying private property, which is neither useful nor justified.
But it is the prosecution of the "St. Paul Seven," and the long-term surveillance project involving the RNC Welcoming Committee, that will have the most important tangible consequences. The methods of infiltration, surveillance, and apprehension used against those activists will provide a model for future crackdowns against any organized dissent.
Accounts of the arrests in the corporatist press retailed prosecution claims that the activists planned a campaign of mayhem and violence that would have included attacks on public transportation and attempts to kidnap Republican delegates.
The "evidence" seized during the raids consists of unremarkable construction materials -- cans of paint, rope, roofing nails -- that could be used in various disruptive ways. The search warrant application also permitted police to confiscate "computer systems" and "media in whatever form," in order to obtain detailed information about the activities of the RNCWC, which is described as an "organized criminal enterprise."
That document also claims that "possession of the property above described constitutes a crime." Thus someone who owned a computer or a single can of paint could be arrested, indicted, and perhaps convicted of terrorism charges in absence of a single documented criminal act if the prosecution can supply a convincing narrative.
And in this case, as with so many others, the job of supply the appropriate narrative has been given to "confidential informants," two of whom (along with an "undercover investigator") are cited copiously in the warrant application and the criminal complaint. The "corroboration" offered for the most lurid and disturbing charges -- those dealing with actual violence and property destruction -- consists entirely of the accounts provided by paid informants.
"Of the stuff that was seized by the police, about ninety percent is just common household items that we're told were going to be used for criminal acts," commented Bruce Nestor, a defense attorney for the detainees, in a telephone interview with Pro Libertate. "In fact, there is nothing here that in itself constitutes evidence of a crime or a plot to commit a crime. [The prosecution] wants us to view these items in light of the story being told by the paid informants, and the presumed political beliefs of the detainees."
Police who conducted the pre-convention raids claim to have found 37 "caltrops" -- spikes that are scattered on a motorway to disable cars during a police pursuit. What was actually found was not a supply of standard-issue caltrops, but roofing nails that had supposedly been "weaponized."
"To be fair, roofing nails could be used as caltrops, but they could also be used as roofing nails," Nestor pointed out when I asked him about that reported discovery. "Some police experts insist that these particular roofing nails had been modified or bundled together in some way that suggests an intent to use them to disrupt traffic. But this is suggestive, once again, largely because of the stories told by the informants. Otherwise you've got common roofing nails" -- possession of which is evidence only of a plot to repair one's roof.
Similar considerations apply in evaluating the claim that police discovered "weaponized urine" (no, I'm not kidding) during the pre-convention raids. What the police, citing breathless reports from their confidential informants, triumphantly described as an attempt to create a very crude bio-chem anti-personnel weapon was described by activists as a rudimentary chamber pot.
Given the frequency with which well-publicized "international terrorist plots" prove to be media spectacles choreographed by the FBI through paid informant/provocateurs, it's reasonable to suspect that the case against the "St. Paul Seven" may involve a domestic application of the same approach.
Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who was present in St. Paul to speak to peace activists at a St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, believes that "what violence there was [during protests] bore the earmarks of provocation by the likes of Sheriff Fletcher and his Homeland Security, FBI, and -- according to one well-sourced report -- Blackwater buddies."
McGovern describes one instance in which "a man who looked like a protester -- dark clothes, backpack, a bit disheveled" -- was identified as one of the police officers who had carried out the Friday night raid against the RNCWC. "The young protesters asked the man, and two associates, to leave [the protest], at which point the three hustled into a nearby unmarked sedan," writes McGovern. "The license plate, observed by a Pioneer Press reporter, traced back to the detective unit of the Hennepin County Sheriff's office...."
It's worth remembering that the same time-honored tactic was on display during the August 2007 Security and Prosperity Partnership summit in Montebello, Quebec almost exactly a year earlier. In an incident captured on video, a group of ineptly disguised police infiltrators, armed with rocks and reeking of foul intentions, were caught trying to infiltrate and radicalize a peaceful protest march.
While McGovern may be right about the involvment of agents provocateur, there's reason to believe at least some of those caught up in the pre-convention sweep harbored criminal designs.
One of the seven activists arrested during a "pre-emptive" sweep, a young man burdened with the theatrically villainous name Max Jackob Specktor, was found to possess several sets of black clothing, goggles, helmets, several implements that a vandal would find very useful (a bolt cutter, a pry bar, spring loaded "punches," and metal pipe of various sizes), and documents suggestive of something other than innocent intentions.
Obviously, if the prosecution can prove that Specktor was planning to participate in a riot, he should be convicted of that charge and be given the appropriate penalty. If he has proven co-conspirators, they should likewise receive a suitable punishment. The ominous novelty of this case resides in the effort to punish the familiar misdemeanor offense of "conspiracy to riot" as a form of domestic terrorism, and to incriminate others who appear to have committed no offense at all as part of a widespread terrorist plot.
The prosecution depicts Specktor as part of the "black bloc," a radical element within the larger anarchist community that carries out "direct action" in the form of assaults on property confrontations with the police.
It's likely that a trial would place Specktor at the center of a series of concentric circles intended to implicate others -- beginning with his immediate co-defendants, and working out to those identified as belonging to "affinity groups" -- as part of a large domestic terrorist conspiracy. If this turns out to be true, this one case could metastasize into a public works project for prosecutors across the country. It will certainly provide a template to be used whenever any appendage of the Homeland Security Leviathan wants to suppress organized dissent and prosecute it as a criminal act "in furtherance of terrorism."
In March 2007, the RNC in St. Paul was designated a National Security Special Event (NSSE). Shortly thereafter, the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department began hiring and deploying infiltrators. According to Sheriff Bob Fletcher, his department, working through the local Joint Terrorism Task Force, was involved in a nation-wide effort to track down and keep suspected protesters under surveillance.
The lead agency for Ramsey County in this undertaking was Fletcher's Special Investigations Unit, under the direction of former US Secret Service Special Agent Tony Samec (who is one of four affiants listed in the warrant application). The application observes that Samec, who most likely was temporarily seconded to the Sheriff's department, "has been involved in numerous NSSEs throughout the United States."
Ramsey County's Special Investigations Unit has an interesting relationship with the federal government. It was the chief local federal subcontractor for the crack-down on dissent during the RNC. But it was also being investigated by the FBI for corruption. And in one of those bits of historical symmetry one would find implausible in a novel, those two developments intersected in the days immediately prior to the RNC.
Guilty on corruption charges: Deputy Timothy Rehak (center-left with his arm around his wife) is led away from court by a steroid-enhanced police goon after being found guilty of stealing $6,000 in an FBI sting operation. Rehak was a member of the Ramsey County "Special Investigations Unit" that spearheaded the crack-down on dissent during the Republican Convention in St. Paul.
On August 27, just days before the pre-emptive raids on RNC protesters, two close associates of Sheriff Fletcher on the SIU were found guilty of theft and civil rights violations. Officer Timothy Rehak and Mark Naylon were convicted of stealing $6,000 during an FBI "integrity check," a sting operation intended to ferret out corrupt police officers.
Rehak is a former St. Paul police officer who had a troubled history before Fletcher asked him to join the SIU.
Naylon, significantly, has never been a police officer, despite the fact that he commanded considerable clout on the force.
He was Fletcher's chief PR spokesman. Before that he was the best man at Fletcher's second wedding. He operated a private security firm that employed off-duty deputies to serve as bouncers at a nightclub owned by a man named Mike Ogren, who was convicted of an illegal gambling operation in 2003.
Spinning the crack-down: Ramsey County Sheriff Robert Fletcher (center), along with former Secret Service agent Tony Samec (left), unveil to the media the supposed terrorist arsenal seized during pre-convention raids on residences in St. Paul.
Despite the fact that he had no training or authority, Naylon was permitted to carry a sidearm, make arrests, and otherwise behave as if he were a duly deputized member of Fletcher's department.
On occasion, when a member of Fletcher's department needed to cite a "confidential informant" to obtain a warrant, Naylon would play that role as well -- perjuring himself by providing the exact "testimony" an officer needed to secure permission for a search or an arrest.
The SIU first came under FBI scrutiny more than five years ago. A July 2003 raid on a bar discovered an unlicensed gambling operation. The bar's owner claimed that the proceeds were helping to underwrite Fletcher's re-election effort. That charge was recanted, but it stirred up an FBI inquiry that prompted the sting operation against Rehak and Naylon and led to their eventual conviction.
During his four terms as Sheriff, Fletcher has radically expanded the size and budget of his force, and strong-armed the county commission (by way of litigation and a cynical PR campaign) to build a new $61 million jail. He also developed a reputation for cronyism (demonstrated by his treatment of Naylor), empire-building, and what former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer calls "conspiratorial" thinking. Most importantly, he eagerly queued up for every dime of federal largesse he could find.
To put the matter tidily, Robert Fletcher -- ambitious, power-fixated, and compromised -- was an ideal local subcontractor for the Homeland Security State.
Former FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley, who exposed the Bureau's ineptitude in investigating the 9-11 plot (or, perhaps, its passive complicity in abetting it), resides near St. Paul.
In a letter written to FBI Director Robert Mueller three weeks before the attack on Iraq, Rowley warned that the "`pre-emptive strike' rationale being applied to situations abroad could migrate back home, fostering a more permissive attitude on the part of law enforcement officers in this country."
During his visit to the Twin Cities, Ray McGovern asked Rowley if the spectacle unfolding in St. Paul offered an awful vindication of her concerns. Referring to the pre-emptive raids and the military occupation of the streets illustrate how once the Feds take control of matters, "all the rules go up in smoke" and "otherwise wonderful community police officers [will] turn on their own peaceful citizens...."
To employ the argot of Star Wars fans, Rowley believes that St. Paul demonstrated how quickly "local" police personnel are transformed into stormtroopers when the Feds activate Order 66.
In fact, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, the apparatus on display in St. Paul was a federally controlled local militia, rather than a local police agency in any sense of the expression.
However one addresses the nuance of the proposition, this much seems clear: The Homeland Security Death Star is now fully operational.
On sale now!
Dum spiro, pugno!