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Sep 4, 19

FBI Wants Cops to Think ICE Protesters Are “Lethal Threat”

Last week, Hunter Walker, a White House reporter with Yahoo News contacted It’s Going Down stating that they were working on an article about the FBI labeling groups and individuals within the anarchist movement and the wider #AbolishICE struggle as domestic terrorists and violent threats to law enforcement. Included in a report which has now been released by Yahoo Newsthe Phoenix FBI office in a “external intelligence note” to law enforcement agencies around the country, used a collection of random social media posts by various individuals, online articles, as well as information from at least one informant to coddle together an argument that those organizing against mass detention and racist US immigration policies pose an escalating violent threat.

As Walker wrote, what is presented in the FBI memo as a growing threat is best described as examples of grassroots movement organizing, which contradictions the FBI’s current talking point that it investigates crimes, “not ideology.”

From the article:

Almost all of the evidence cited in the report involved nonviolent protest activity. The intelligence collected and cited in the FBI document, dated May 30, 2019, is worrisome to activists and civil rights advocates who say that the government is classifying legitimate government opposition and legally protected speech as violent extremism or domestic terrorism.

The FBI intelligence note described the border protest activity as coming from “anarchist extremists.” Though it specified that the analysis was written by the FBI’s Phoenix office and does not necessarily reflect the bureau’s national perspective, the note showed that, at least in Arizona, the bureau is tracking border protest groups and labeling them a source of potential violence.

Interestingly enough given the context of the heavily armed far-Right in the region, the FBI report centers on the perceived potential threat of “anarchist extremists” in regards to those in the movement possessing firearms. The document states:

“…Arizona-based AEs [Anarchist Extremists] likely are increasingly arming themselves and using lethal force to further their goals and in confrontations with ideologically opposed groups.” [Our emphasis.]

However as Walker reports on Yahoo News, the “evidence” cited in the FBI report is simply a collection of lifted quotes from two It’s Going Down articles, (one a PDF zine featuring a short roundup of anti-ICE activity in Arizona and the other a broad analysis and proposal for anti-ICE resistance), mention of social media posts from one antifascist activist several states removed from Arizona, and a self-defense workshop hosted at the Táala Hooghan Infoshop in Flagstaff, Arizona.

The document also:

…Cited information received via a public tip line about the group Redneck Revolt, a national left-wing organization that describes itself as dedicated to “community defense.” The FBI said the tipster noted that the group has raised money “for firearms purchases” and has offered to “act as armed security for various protests.”

In short, the Phoenix FBI memo attempts to present a hodgepodge collection of grassroots movement activity and supposedly protected speech as instead a clear example of the increasing capacity of “Anarchist Extremists” to engage in “lethal force.” As one former DHS agent said in a statement to Yahoo News:

“Why would they put out something out there to the field with that lack of confidence and numerous unvalidated sources?”

The Conspiracy Centered Around “Cobra Commander”

Central to the argument articulated in the FBI’s Phoenix memo, is their description of a Facebook page, the Border Liberation Front. According to Yahoo News

In the document, the Border Liberation Front was linked to alleged planning efforts to disrupt U.S. border security operations and the building of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. The group’s activities, in fact, were identified as being “most critical” to the FBI’s conclusion that extremist border protest groups were “increasingly arming themselves and using lethal force.”

When reached for comment by Yahoo News, an activist with the Border Liberation Front group stated that they were not surprised by the surveillance, as recently organizers had already been listed as part of a “database of activists, journalists, and social media influencers tied to the migrant caravan and in some cases, [had alerts] placed on their passports.” This information became public in the lead up to Trump’s troop deployment on the US border with Mexico right before the 2018 midterm elections, as the administration played up conspiracy theories that the caravans will filled with members of everything from ISIS to MS-13.

After being put on this list, many journalists, activists, and humanitarian aid volunteers reported State harassment:

One photojournalist said she was pulled into secondary inspections three times and asked questions about who she saw and photographed in Tijuana shelters. Another photojournalist said she spent 13 hours detained by Mexican authorities when she tried to cross the border into Mexico City. Eventually, she was denied entry into Mexico and sent back to the U.S.

The individuals listed include ten journalists, seven of whom are U.S. citizens, a U.S. attorney, and 48 people from the U.S. and other countries, labeled as organizers, instigators or their roles “unknown.” The target list includes advocates from organizations like Border Angels and Pueblo Sin Fronteras.

According to The Intercept, this mass compiling of information on journalists, activists, and humanitarian volunteers was a joint venture between both the US and Mexican governments:

While many on the political left dismissed the president’s actions as a stunt, that was not the case among White House-aligned media outlets. Breitbart News, the sponsor of a Border Patrol union podcast, published multiple stories in October 2018 reporting on violence associated with the caravan. The coming migrants were also a frequent topic of alarm on Fox News, from which the president is known to draw much of his understanding of world events, which later trickles into policy on the ground.

“A number of journalists and photographers were identified by Mexican Federal Police as possibly assisting migrants in crossing the border illegally and/or having some level of participation in the violent incursion events,” [a CBP official] wrote. “Imperial Beach Border Patrol Station Agents were attacked multiple times by caravan groups on the border attempting to illegally cross.”

Howe went on to say that “CBP utilized various sources of information in assessing the intentions of the caravan upon their arrival in Tijuana,” and that those “varied sources of information helped identify a number of people involved in assisting migrants cross the border illegally,” as well as witnesses to the “violent actions taken against law enforcement at the border.” In November 2018, a month after Howe said the “threat level” associated with the caravan increased, NBC News reported that DHS was gathering intelligence on the caravan through paid informants and the monitoring of WhatsApp groups.

In short, law enforcement in both Mexico and the US were highly invested in surveilling and also painting solidarity activists as violent threats while Trump was playing up larger fears of the migrant caravan itself. And, as It’s Going Down has reported, often the instances of so-called migrant “violence” claimed by Customs and Border Patrol officers, were simply times in which people have attempted to cross into the US in order to apply for asylum, only to be met by massive amounts of violence from the US military and the border patrol, who would often later claim that people were throwing objects at them as justification for brutal repression.

According to the FBI agents who wrote the Phoenix memo, the Border Liberation Front was also organizing “camps in Texas and Arizona to serve as staging platforms for on-site armed support of the migrant caravans” and “intended to purchase firearms from a Mexico-based cartel associate.”

Organizers who spoke with Yahoo News pushed back against these outlandish claims that they were in fact in league with the murderous drug cartels, which has long been a source of far-Right conspiracy theories. Speaking to Yahoo News one activist stated:

“All we do is just raise funds and then make sure those that are seeking asylum have the things that they need, clothes and food,” the woman [associated with the Border Liberation Front] said.

Such conspiracy theories were recently amplified on a mass scale this May by Fox News, The Daily Wire, and The Daily Caller, which spread after the The San Diego Tribune published a story about an unclassified FBI report that was sent to law enforcement agencies around the country in December of 2018. The report claimed an FBI informant had knowledge that solidarity activists working with migrants were attempting to buy weapons from a drug cartel associate named “Cobra Commander” in order to launch some sort of uprising at the US border with Mexico. Far-Right outlets, including Fox News, soon turned this story into the claim that “ANTIFA” was planning to launch an armed uprising at the border along side cartel members and those within the migrant caravan.

According to the San Diego Tribune, the December 2018 FBI memo, which was not published in order to supposedly protect the identity of the informant, provided no real evidence and remains completely unverified, however several of the people mentioned in the report were listed in the aforementioned leaked documents listing journalists, activists, and humanitarian volunteers as potential ‘trouble makers.’ Local activists mentioned in the report denounced the conspiracy theory that migrant solidarity activists, labeled “ANTIFA,” by far-Right media, were attempting to buy guns from drug cartels, as fictitious and idiotic. Far-Right and Proud Boy adjacent social media grifter Andy Ngo pushed a similar story months later, claiming that an ICE protest mobilization in El Paso was in fact an “ANTIFA” training camp.

As many have pointed out, the cartels have no stake in revolutionary politics, and currently make a lot of money off of the death and suffering happening on the border. Moreover, the cartels and organized crime groups are also opposed by autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements in Mexico, such as the Zapatistas and National Indigenous Congress; while multiple Mexican towns have also taken to expelling organized criminal elements from their communities. The only arena in which the cartels would align themselves with liberatory struggles is in the minds of far-Right racist conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones.

Both Sides?

The irony of the FBI being worried about grassroots movements arming themselves is that the Southwest, and Arizona in particular, is a hotbed of far-Right, white nationalist, and militia activity – to say nothing of the ongoing atrocities committed on the border by State agencies. This includes:

  • Far-Right militias who engage in paramilitary operations on the boarder. These groups have long been tied to white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups. J.T. Ready, formerly a low level member of the local GOP, then came out as a member of the National Socialist Movement and led armed patrols in Arizona on the border before slaughtering his entire family and then himself. After his death, it was revealed that Ready was heavily under FBI surveillance and some have surmised he may have potentially been an informant.
  • Far-Right militias in nearby states, such as the United Constitutional Patriots, recently grabbed headlines after they video taped themselves holding migrants against their will in the desert. Soon after, their leader Larry Mitchell Hopkins was arrested by the FBI on weapons charges. Other far-Right militias like the Three Percenters, who are active in Arizona and whose members often cross multiple State lines to engage on the border with high powered weapons, have also been linked to a series of racist and anti-immigrant bombings.

Neo-Nazi and Militia Leader JT Ready

It should also be pointed out the high degree of cross over between the local GOP establishment, figures like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and far-Right politics, with many white nationalist and militia groups supporting racist anti-immigrant policies (such as SB-1070) and legislation pushed by local law enforcement.

Speaking of local law enforcement, thanks to the investigative work of the Plain View Project, dozens of local police officers were recently found to be posting far-Right and racist content on social media:

The project’s director, Emily Baker-White found posts that seemed racially biased, misogynistic, Islamophobic, or appeared to promote officer aggression and vigilante justice. She flagged posts or comments from about 75 Phoenix officers.

Unlike grassroots social movement which are seeking to expand the scope of human freedom and autonomy, the far-Right in Arizona and the surrounding area has been mobilizing to attack it – violently at times.

A History of Violence

This weekend we watched as thousands of Boston residents converged against a poorly attended far-Right rally organized by white nationalists and neo-Nazis under the banner of “Straight Pride.” As in all of these demonstrations, police focused their attention on policing and attacking the much larger antifascist and anti-racist crowd, arresting around 35 individuals, including one journalist. In the following days in the face of growing anger at the brutality of the police, the judge seemingly refused to drop the charges while a Boston Herald editorial called for antifascists to be labeled as domestic terrorists.

People often ask themselves why the police behave in such a way or why events like Charlottesville end in bloodshed, but overlook the fact that then, just as now, the information that local law enforcement receives about these events all echos the same refrain: the real danger is coming from so-called “anarchist extremists.” 

With police departments receiving reports from government officials stating that grassroots groups are literally using “lethal force” against them, citing dubious and unverified information, often from the far-Right, is there any wonder why the police are pointing their guns in a certain direction? To be clear, this isn’t an argument that we expect anything less: law enforcement grows out of Native genocide, slave patrols, and suppression of riots, strikes, and uprisings. Simply put: it is doing what it is designed to do. If you want to create a new world, expect the old one to try and stop you.

But in recent documentaries and in numerous in-depth reports from investigative journalists, again and again the question is asked: why is far-Right violence being allowed to grow? The answer lies in the degree in which the State is simply not focused on the far-Right because their resources are instead directed at grassroots social movements and struggles.

As former FBI agent Mike German has pointed out, the FBI has also lumped “Black Identity Extremists” alongside white nationalists and anarchists next to far-Right militias. The point in all this he argues, is to obscure the fact that law enforcement is primarily concerned with grassroots social movements from below, not growing far-Right violence aimed at the public at large. Recently leaked FBI documents which rank social movements as bigger threats than white nationalists or even Jihadi groups all help to solidify this point.

On top of this, powerful industry lobbyists from the fossil fuel and agricultural industries have also successfully pushed the State to enact harsher laws against environmental and animal liberation activists while events such as Standing Rock highlight the degree in which law enforcement is in many ways merging with private security firms like TigerSwan.

And even in the FBI’s own admission and in the reports from the Department of Justice which the Trump administration has tried to suppress, we see that the violent threat to the public at large comes not from grassroots movements from below, but from far-Right organizations aligning themselves with the repressive policies of the current administration.

Its in this context that the FBI is attempting to build a false narrative around the threat of violence against the public coming from the #AbolishICE movement, at a time when the body count of migrants inside ICE facilities and the number of children reporting being sexually assaulted and molested while in custody – which is real and actual violence – is sky rocketing. This is also coming at a time when Trump is attempting to implement indefinite detention and even upend articles of the Constitution which guarantee birthright citizenship. This is not coincidence, but by design.

As volunteers with the Táala Hooghan Infoshop said in a recent statement:

This country was built on violence against black, brown and indigenous peoples, and we must defend ourselves from white supremacist violence in order to survive.

It is no surprise that the FBI would target those of us standing up to daily threats of white supremacist violence. COINTELPRO attacks on the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement are very recent historic reminders of the lengths that the state will go through to surveil and criminalize dissent. To this day, the United States exists on white supremacy and the genocide of Indigenous Peoples. We face the reality that white supremacists are responsible for more deadly attacks in the so-called US since 2001 than any other threat. According to Yahoo News, “white supremacists were responsible for all race-based domestic terrorism incidents in 2018,” meanwhile anti-fascists, or those resisting authoritarian nationalism, were responsible for none.

When militarized police shoot Black & Brown people with impunity and the far-right shows up armed at the border, that is normalized and accepted, but when people of color are armed for self and community defense, we are further criminalized and repressed.

FBI surveillance doesn’t surprise anyone in the US who is involved in grassroots organizing which seeks to build the capacity of poor and working-class people to fundamentally better their lives and communities, as these movements, be they against capital, white supremacy, or to protect the Earth, have always been the target of government spying and harassment.

We need only took to past FBI programs like COINTELPRO which utilized everything from misinformation to out right assassinations, the Green Scare of the early 2000s, to current day repression of Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street, to see that while the FBI may claim that it does not “police ideology,” reality paints a much different picture. The current moves by the FBI, which mimic, build off of, and pull from far-Right and white nationalist talking points and conspiracy theories, show that this long and often bloody history of the FBI targeting grassroots movements seems to be repeating itself, and at a time when the country is rocked by a wave of neo-Nazi and far-Right violence and mass murder.

As members of both parties are currently pushing for new laws that would designate resistance movements and those who support them as “domestic terrorism” under the guise of fighting white nationalist violence, we need to be clear in opposing false solutions offered to us by the State and instead look within ourselves at our growing capacity to address and confront the things which immiserate our lives.


If An Agent Knocks

Self-Defense Against Surveillance

Towards a Collective Security Culture

Inside the FBI’s Entrapment Strategy

Lessons on the FBI Crackdown on Eco-Activists

If the FBI Approaches You to Become and Informant

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It’s Going Down is a digital community center from anarchist, anti-fascist, autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements. Our mission is to provide a resilient platform to publicize and promote revolutionary theory and action.

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