Filed under: Featured, IGDcast, Interviews, Radio/Podcast
In this episode of the It’s Going Down podcast, we talked with journalist Will Parrish who has bylines in The Intercept and Shadowproof, Charlottesville based attorney Pam Starsia of the National Lawyers Guild, and also Sam from the DC Legal Posse, a support collective for J20 defendants who are facing over 60 years in prison for protesting Trump’s inauguration.
Broadly we discuss how over the past several years, a new pattern has emerged within the various intelligence organizations: FBI, DHS, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and centered within organizational hubs such as Fusion Centers, (which brings together both federal and local law enforcement), which collectively have pushed for the labeling of broad and popular social movements as dangerous threats to the American public at large; with such examples including “Black identity Extremists” and “Anarchist Extremists.”
Only weeks after Charlottesville, the Northern California Fusion Center was referring to Black Lives Matter as a “hate group,” and warning that they might show up to un-permitted far-Right rallies. Source: MuckRock
In studying the wealth of FOIAed documents that have come out over the last year through MuckRock and the work of various journalists, attorneys, and local organizers, we also get a glimpse into the collective mindset of law enforcement. In short, as they always have, the intelligence community clearly views grassroots movements as the principle threat to the established order of the country, but are always quick to frame this threat in terms of a violent menace to the public at large. The Central California Intelligence Center, a fusion center based in Northern California for instance, wrote in 2017 that “ANTIFA” was the “greatest threat to public safety.”
Fusion Center presentation from April 2017 highlights “Anarchist Extremists,” but in the photos, shows people attending to wounds inflicted by neo-Nazis in Sacramento in June 2016. Source: MuckRock
Where Does InfoWars End, and the Fusion Center Begin?
In justifying these labels, those in the intelligence community point to a collection of shoddy research, often pulled from far-Right and even Alt-Right sources, that seeks to justify what is clearly a political bias among law enforcement. For instance, in released emails, one agent down played the research of the Southern Poverty Law Center, even in a state with known active white power groups, because they claimed that the SPLC supposedly gets money from “donors like George Soros,” while other reports even presented well known Alt-Right memes and photo-shopped images as genuine examples of antifascist outreach. Links to far-Right websites such as The Blaze and Breitbart are common, and show a tendency to look to the far-Right for information. In some instances, Alt-Right websites were even minded for info, such as the Occidental Dissent, which is connected to the neo-Nazi and KKK confederation, the Nationalist Front.
Fusion Center list of “anarchist groups” shows antifa groups accused of “stabbings” in Sacramento, regardless of the fact that they themselves were the victims of the attack. Also accuses another group of “doxxing” members of Identity Evropa and the Berkeley College Republicans by simply writing about them, and refers to this as a “cyber attack.” Begs the question what the Fusion Center is then doing. Source: MuckRock
But other examples show a culture in which law enforcement – without any amount of fact checking or oversight, is manufacturing threats about social movements as a way to justify expansive surveillance and moreover their own existence. For instance, in an article that is referred to various times in Fusion Center documents, law enforcement links to a far-Right news website, Vessel News, which now ironically appears to be offline. Upon looking at its Twitter feed, we see it is connected to Alt-Lite and conspiracy websites such as The Gateway Pundit and various individuals close to Alt-Right figures such as Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman.
The article in question, archived here, simply quotes people on a Reddit anarchist forum stating that in the face of Alt-Right violence, people need to train and be prepared to defend themselves, which includes learning how to legally use firearms. While none of this discussion points to illegal activity, and in no way matches the outright celebration and glorification of violent threats from the far-Right which have been mass produced online, this article from a seemingly unknown and unverified website, was used repeatedly by law enforcement to argue that they expected to see an “escalation” of “ANTIFA violence” that would be more over, a threat to public. The irony that the people in the article are discussing protecting themselves from far-Right violence seems to be lost on them.
A Fusion Center document that shows a photo-shopped meme popular among the Alt-Right being used as a genuine antifascist article, speaks to the degree in which members of the intelligence community consume far-Right media, as well as their dislocation from reality. Our tax dollars at work! Source: MuckRock
The Strategy Plays Out
As Charlottesville local attorney Pam Starsia explains in our podcast, in the eyes of the police, Black Lives Matter activists and antifascists have a history of violence, while white supremacists by and large are seen as open to working with the police and keeping their demonstrations “orderly.” In the aftermath of the death of Heather Heyer however, this stance by the police blew back upon them, as many people pointed out time and time again that the drive for violence and bringing weapons was openly discussed, planned, and celebrated on various Alt-Right online platforms, yet was by and large completely ignored by local police and government officials.
As Will Parrish wrote on Shadowproof:
Leading up to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, numerous foot soldiers of the “alt-right” openly broadcast their intention to create bloodshed in the genteel southern town.
A white supremacist group in California posted online videos glorifying physical assaults they had perpetrated on their ideological opponents. A post by the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer called for “military guys” to “crack skulls” of black people.
Many of the white supremacists traveling to Charlottesville had violent criminal histories and were well-known to law enforcement. They included: a former Green Beret and Ku Klux Klansman who went to prison for stealing weapons and explosives, a former Marine who went to prison for assaulting a cab driver he thought was Iraqi and participated in violence at the Berkeley protests before coming to Charlottesville, and a Baltimore Klansman who was charged with three separate assaults and a rape (but not convicted).
But an August 9 assessment by federal and local law enforcement officers of the potential for “domestic terrorist violence” at the August 12 rally mainly focused on the possibility that violence would emanate from anti-racists, who were described as “anarchist extremists.”
But as the State turned a blind eye to the far-Right, in the lead up to the Trump inauguration its violent grew and then exploded after Trump came into office. This violent escalation took many forms, including acts of vandalism, harassment, and even outright murder, as well as arson and other attacks on Mosques, holocaust memorials, synagogues, and LGBTQAI centers. When Trump entered office, he also shifted far-Right groups off of the various domestic terrorism lists, and defunded non-profits like Life After Hate, which does outreach to current and former white supremacists. When questioned about rising racist attacks, Trump and aides like Gorka simply brushed these events aside, even going so far as to claim that these were “false flags” carried out by the Left. The signal to the far-Right was received loud and clear. “Trump is setting us free,” wrote neo-Nazi posters on Stormfront, while Unite the Right organizers Mike “Enoch” Peinovich and Richard Spencer would later lament that the Trump administration was giving them the “Space to destroy.”
These procedures also have led to police working at times closely with neo-Nazis in order to repress and arrest antifascist and antiracist protesters. In Sacramento for instance, police told neo-Nazis who were seen in video and photographs stabbing people at a demonstration on June 26th, 2016 that they weren’t interest in prosecuting them – but wanted helped IDing antifascists:
Officers also worked with TWP member Derik Punneo to try to identify anti-fascist activists, recordings revealed. Officers interviewed Punneo in jail after he was arrested for an unrelated domestic violence charge. Audio recordings captured investigators saying they brought photos to show him, hoping he could help them identify anti-fascist activists.
The officers said, “We’re pretty much going after them,” and assured him: “We’re looking at you as a victim.”
In one phone call with Doug McCormack, identified by police as the TWP affiliate who acquired the permit for the Sacramento rally, CHP investigator Donovan Ayres warned him that police might have to release his name in response to a public records requests. The officer said he would try to protect McCormack.
“I’m gonna suggest that we hold that or redact your name or something until this gets resolved,” Ayres told McCormack, adding that he didn’t know who had requested records of the permit and noting, “If I did, I would tell you.”
But while the Sacramento police worked closely with neo-Nazis and let them off the hook for violent stabbings, they in turn sought to go after people who were actually injured by the neo-Nazis simply because of their anti-racist politics:
The officer’s write-up about an African American anti-fascist activist included a photo of him at the hospital after the rally and noted that he had been stabbed in the abdomen, chest and hand.
Ayres, however, treated the protester like a suspect in the investigation. The police investigator recommended the man be charged with 11 offenses, including disturbing the peace, conspiracy, assault, unlawful assembly and wearing a mask to evade police.
As evidence, Ayres provided Facebook photos of the man holding up his fist. The officer wrote that the man’s “Black Power salute” and his “support for anti-racist activism” demonstrated his “intent and motivation to violate the civil rights” of the neo-Nazi group. He was ultimately not charged.
Sacramento Police worked closely with Derik Punneo, a neo-Nazi responsible for stabbing multiple people in June of 2016. Police were uninterested in putting Punneo away, and instead wanted his help in IDing antifascists.
By 2017, these kid gloves and even open endorsement of the far-Right led to an explosion of death and destruction across the US. As Christophe Mathias wrote:
White supremacists in the United States killed more than twice as many people in 2017 as they did the year before, and were responsible for far more murders than domestic Islamic extremists, helping make 2017 the fifth deadliest year on record for extremist violence in America, a new report states.
Job Security in Dreams of Civil War
As Michael Harriot wrote in The Root in regards to government surveillance of black liberation organizers in 2016, after various non-profits requested FOIA documents that exposed the existence of “The Race Report,” a 9 page redacted internal memo on Black Lives Matter:
[The] government released a trove of documents including emails, reports and memos showing that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have been tracking the activities of people involved with Black Lives Matter since the Ferguson, Mo., uprisings, even issuing memos on the nonexistent danger of “Black Supremacists” to local and state authorities.
The documents revealed how federal agents shaped the narrative to create a new class of terrorists called “black identity extremists.” The FBI talked about a “history of violent incidents.” The Department of Homeland Security sent a memo to officers across the country warning about a black “day of rage” [which was supposedly a call for protests from the hacker group Anonymous] that never happened. One bulletin even mentioned that black activists posed a threat to “lawfully organized white supremacist events.
The same strategies used to attack Black Lives Matter, have in turn been used on other movements. For instance, just as fake and faulty reports played up fears of BLM, such did ‘leaked’ FBI documents to the Centrist website Politico which falsely claimed with no effort at fact checking that antifascists had carried out acts such as firebombing or throwing Molotov cocktails at “Trump supporters.” It was this report in particular, that laid the ground work for police in Charlottesville to ignore the far-Right and concentrate instead on the “Anarchist Extremists,” using their own faulty reporting as justification.
In the world of Fusion Centers, far-Right conspiracy theories are job security. Source: MuckRock
Northern California Fusion Center email discussion about November 4th. Person in email thinks that the protests are organized by “anarchists” despite the fact that they were not. Claims that there are a potential threats to law enforcement and their families; a clear part of the ‘ANTIFA civil war’ conspiracy that was promoted by InfoWars. Source: MuckRock
Moreover, just as the “Day of Rage” in 2016 was promoted by those within the intelligence community as a potential day in which law enforcement would be attacked, the supposed “ANTIFA civil war” which was promoted on far-Right and conspiracy laden sites such as InfoWars, was also discussed in Fusion Center documents as a real and potential threat. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the media outside of Fox News dismissed this laughingly as a hoax.
Fusion Center emails show that in the wake of the Las Vegas shootings, members of the intelligence community gave credence to the idea that ‘Antifa’ was behind it, after the conspiracy theory was floated by far-Right trolls. This begs the question: what types of sources are Fusion Centers looking at in their day to day ‘research?’ Source: MuckRock
Manufacturing the Threat
Clearly, the State is most interested in manufacturing a threat of extremism out of autonomous social movements, seemly while the amount of far-Right violence grows all around them. But while the tools the State has at its disposal to make this a reality are crude, what is becoming clear, is that far-Right and Alt-Right media are quick to aid them in their quest to convince enough people that social movements are a violent threat to the public.
Fusion Center emails asks people to “connect the dots” between anarchists, crime, radical US “Islamic organizations,” and “left wing billionaires,” a reference to George Soros. Source: MuckRock
According to documents gained from MuckRock, the California State Threat Assessment Center, a fusion center, looked to private contractor Steven Stanley, the CEO of The Sigma Group for information on ‘Antifa.’ He claims that ‘Antifa’ now includes everything from members of PETA, to the Ruckus Society, to people that have not been active in eco and animal liberation circles for years. Daniel Andreas for instance, attacked a corporate storefront involved in animal testing back in the early 2000s and then was never seen again outside of FBI wanted posters, yet is presented here as a ‘member’ without question. This kind of reporting would make Alex Jones blush.
As people engaged in autonomous movements, it is up to us to expose the degree in which the State is protecting, mimicking, and openly working with the far-Right and point out that such polices and ‘research’ coming out of the intelligence communities are leading to people being killed and the growth of the far-Right. This reality also points to the fact that everyday people and social movements have a much better understanding and intelligence of the actual threats to humanity than the various State agencies, who with all of their money and resources, seem only able to parrot the lies and “alternative facts” of racists and conspiracy theorists.