This is a message from members of the activist legal community who are working on behalf of individuals involved with anti-fascist and anti-racist protest activity, to anti-fascist and anti-racist activists and allies, especially anyone who was present in Charlottesville Virginia on August 11 or 12, 2017.
In the aftermath of this summer’s white supremacist rallies and attacks in Virginia, local and federal law enforcement are contacting anti-fascist and anti-racist activists and others who were in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12, 2017.
As of this writing (October 27, 2017) we are aware that state and local police (including the Charlottesville Police Department, Albemarle County Police Department, University of Virginia Police Department, and Virginia State Police) have contacted dozens of activists. We are also aware of two activists who have been contacted by federal law enforcement including the FBI. All of the activists contacted by law enforcement were injured either on the evening of August 11 at the University of Virginia campus or during the August 12th march in Charlottesville when a fascist rammed a car into the crowd. Law enforcement is telling all activists that the activists themselves are not the subject of the investigation, but that law enforcement would like to speak to them as victims and witnesses as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
Everyone we have been in touch with directly has agreed to the above information being shared on their behalf in the interest of transparency and in the spirit of solidarity.
Many people have been calling for the state to prosecute fascists for the extreme violence, terror, and injuries inflicted on August 11 and 12th. We recognize that in light of this some people may be considering sharing information with various law enforcement agencies for the purpose of prosecuting the fascists, and that some people have already done so. In this moment we would like to encourage everyone considering “helping” the state’s investigation of fascist violence get legal advice before deciding to talk to any law enforcement agents. We suggest that people start from the presumption that any information shared with law enforcement will be used against other anti-fascists and anti-racist activists, and that everyone keep the following points in mind:
* Law enforcement can lie about what the subject of their investigation is.
* Law enforcement agencies do routinely share information with other agencies (for example, local police departments may share the substance of an interview with the FBI or with ICE).
* In fact, inter-agency structures are in place to facilitate exactly this type of information sharing (for example, the Virginia Fusion Center).
* If you make statements now in order to assist police in the investigation and prosecution of fascists and the state later decides to broaden their investigation to include anti-fascist and anti-racist activists, you may be subpoenaed for more information. Refusing to comply with a subpoena later is more difficult (from a legal defenses perspective) if you have previously cooperated with law enforcement investigation efforts.
* It is possible that a special grand jury either has been or will be convened to investigate anti-fascist and anti-racist actions and efforts surrounding the events in Charlottesville and elsewhere. Any and all information given to law enforcement deepens the reach of a grand jury investigation. Grand juries have historically been used as a tool to repress political movements.
* Even simply confirming to law enforcement that you were present at an event on specific date or at a certain place can lead to further adverse actions against leftist activists and subpoenas to you for testimony and/or for access to your records (including electronic devices like cell phones and cameras) at a later stage.
We would like to remind everyone of your rights when interacting with law enforcement:
* You are not required to speak with any law enforcement officer or agent.
* You have a right to consult an attorney before talking to law enforcement or deciding whether or not to talk to them.
* You have a right to have an attorney present while being questioned by law enforcement even if they tell you that you are not the subject of the investigation or if you volunteer to do an interview.
We recommend the following:
* If you are contacted by law enforcement, simply get their name and contact information and firmly let them know that you do not want to speak with them at this time and that they will hear from your attorney.
* If you do ultimately choose to share information with law enforcement, never discuss your political views or affiliations and never discuss anyone else in any way (including who else was present).
* Remember that giving photo or video records to law enforcement that show other people does amount to confirming the whereabouts of other activists without their consent.
* We also remind everyone that information shared with law enforcement will be used against other people in anti-fascist and anti-racist movements. Even seemingly innocuous details about where you were and at what time can end up being used against other people or simply to construct social maps of our communities. Sharing information can also
inadvertently expose others to the type of right-wing harassment and doxing which have recently been so harmful to people in our communities.
For these reasons we recommend that no-one speak with law enforcement. If you have already done so, contact a lawyer as soon as possible for assistance moving forward. If you have been contacted by law enforcement and are considering speaking with them, don’t do it without first contacting an attorney to privately discuss these issues and to decide how to proceed. Always use attorneys who have experience representing members of political movements during criminal investigations or defending activists with criminal charges.
We also encourage people to continue to be transparent about these developments as they occur – secrecy leads to isolation and feeds fear, which are both harmful to solidarity.
The best place to start to find experienced political attorneys to represent you in this context is to talk to other anti-fascist and anti-racist activists and the organizations you’ve been working through. It’s a good idea for groups to line up a suitable lawyer or group of lawyers in advance. Also, your local NLG Chapter can provide assistance in finding political attorneys in your area.
National Lawyers Guild (NLG) Know Your Rights materials
Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) If an Agent Knocks booklet
Freedom Archives background on how grand juries have been used against political movements in the past
For more on grand juries and the criminal legal process for activists in general we recommend: A Tilted Guide to Being a Defendant