A dangerous legal development which threatens the right of protest has materialized in the course of demonstrations against the Chicago NATO summit over the weekend. Five protesters allegedly connected with the black bloc were arrested and charged with “conspiracy to commit terrorism, providing material support for terrorism and possession of an explosive or incendiary device.” The arrested protesters’ lawyers claim entrapment by undercover police.
According to the Chicago Tribune, police informants recorded three of the defendants in conversations about making Molotov cocktails and using them to attack police stations, mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house, and Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago. They were arrested on Friday after they allegedly bought gasoline and started making the devices. Two other men were arrested on similar charges on Sunday, on information supplied by the same undercover police.
The Guardian report noted: “The men’s defence attorney, Michael Deutsch, has said the three were victims of a ‘a Chicago police set-up, entrapment to the highest degree.’ … Deutsch said the undercover police officers – reportedly nicknamed ‘Nadia,’ ‘Mo’ and ‘Gloves’ – had ‘egged on’ the protesters.” He told Democracy Now that “from our information, these so-called incendiary devices and the plans to attack police stations, attack the mayor’s office, is all coming from the mind of the police informants and are not coming from our clients, who are nonviolent protesters. They are not anarchists. They don’t belong to a Black Bloc organization. They’re involved with nonviolent protest.”
AJC News commented: “Longtime observers of police tactics said the operation seemed similar to those conducted by authorities in other cities before similarly high-profile events. For instance, prior to the Republican National Convention in 2008 in St. Paul, Minn., prosecutors charged eight activists who were organizing mass protests with terrorism-related crimes after investigators said they recovered equipment for Molotov cocktails, slingshots with marbles and other items. … Molotov cocktails are dangerous weapons, but it ‘kind of stretches the bounds to define that as terrorism,’ said Michael Scott, director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.”
The boundaries of definition are being stretched as part of a broader strategy to make an ideological connection between Occupy protests and terrorism. What is new is the systematic use of police entrapment, similar to the methods used to obtain convictions of alleged sympathizers of al-Quaeda. Even without a conviction, these charges now carry the possibility of indefinite detention and even assassination by presidential order.
Occupy Wall Street pointed out on their website: “This is now the second time authorities have timed high-profile arrests of alleged ‘domestic terrorists’ to coincide with major days of action for the Occupy movement – the other was earlier this month when five Occupiers in Cleveland were arrested on charges of conspiring to blow up a bridge on May Day. In both cases, authorities surveilled and infiltrated activist circles to instigate and supply support for alleged conspiracies to commit domestic terrorism.”
An analysis of the Cleveland charges by RT reveals that “although the suspects are believed to have expressed anti-government sentiments and disdain for major financial corporations, the impetus in the would-be bombing was the urging of undercover agents that had infiltrated a group of friends and encouraged them to consider acts of terrorism.” The FBI despatched an informant to infiltrate an Occupy protest in Cleveland in October, who then forged a relationship with a number of men who “acted differently” from the others, made them financially and emotionally dependent on him, and browbeat them into planning criminal acts.
Richard Schulte, a veteran activist, told Jake Olzen that two of the men had been part of the full-time occupation over the winter in Cleveland’s Public Square. “After having grown frustrated with what they perceived as the Occupiers’ timidity — Schulte called it ‘passive gradualism’ — the Five were encouraged by [the informant] Azir to break off from Occupy Cleveland and form their own, much smaller group, ‘The People’s Liberation Army.’ … Azir would give them a case of beer in the morning, according to Schulte, have them work outside on houses all day, and then give them a case of beer at night. He gave them marijuana and would wear them down by keeping them up late into the night with drinking and conversation — all the while urging them to break away from other groups, keep their arrangement secret and not to trust other activists. Looking back, Schulte said Azir and the FBI used ‘security culture against activists’ and ‘developed patterns of trust to seem legit.’ The Cleveland Five, he explains, ‘were coached by the federal government’.”
There is no way these operations could have been organized without the complicity of the Obama administration. The highly-disciplined character of police behavior during the demonstrations, refusing to respond to open provocations – which frustrated some protesters – was due to extensive training from the Department of Homeland Security. Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy told Chicago Tonight: “Only about a third of the department is going to be used for this event. Those officers are being trained to levels that have been called exceeding the national standards by the people who do this across the country.”
Demonstrators were allowed to roam the streets, but McCarthy said “police would be ready with quick but targeted arrests of any demonstrators who turn violent Sunday. ‘If anything else happens, the plan is to go in and get the people who create the violent acts, take them out of the crowd and arrest them,’ warned McCarthy, at the scene of protests after dark. ‘We’re not going to charge the crowd wholesale – that’s the bottom line’.”
These “snatch squad” counter-insurgency techniques were employed at the end of Sunday’s mass demonstration: “At the end of the march, police appeared to be using precisely the tactics Superintendent Garry McCarthy said they would — extracting individuals from the crowd and quickly getting them away from the rest of the demonstrators. Several times they could be seen pulling protesters into a line of officers, which parted briefly before quickly closing ranks again,” reported SeattlePi.
Although some praised the restraint of the police during the weekend, the iron fist within was revealed when demonstrators overstepped, even by a little, the bounds imposed by the authorities. According to In These Times writer Rebecca Burns, “Though [Sunday’s] march proceeded from Grant Park without incident, police began to move in as soon as the permit expired at 5 P.M. This followed similar police behavior at Friday’s National Nurses United-organized rally, where police gave a dispersal order immediately following the permitted rally’s end. … as the veterans and other demonstrators began exiting, one group of protesters advanced towards the line of police … Within ten minutes, at least two demonstrators emerged from the cluster bleeding from the head as a result of blows from police batons.”
Independent journalists and live streamers were targeted by police in an attempt to intimidate and suppress press coverage. According to the Guardian: “Late Saturday night Tim Pool, Luke Rudkowski, Geoff Shively and two friends were driving to an apartment where they had been staying in Chicago. The group had spent the day live streaming and documenting anti-Nato protests. As they approached a stop sign, roughly a dozen police vehicles – marked and unmarked – reportedly surrounded their car with lights flashing. … Police bent Shively over the vehicle and handcuffed the remaining four. Officers rifled through the vehicle and reportedly smashed batteries and external hard drives belonging to the journalists. Rudkowksi’s phone was taken from him and much of his footage from the incident was deleted. …
“Pool and Rudkowski are among the most well-known live stream journalists covering the Occupy movement. Pool’s work has been profiled in Time magazine and number of other publications. Shivley recently returned from a live streaming trip to Syria. Rudkowski – who was granted NATO press credentials – has a history of confronting political figures and executives with his camera. A day before his detention, Rudkowski questioned Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy and asked if the department intended to use agent provocateurs in responding to the NATO demonstrations. Hours before the live streamers were detained, Mike Paczesny, who works with Rudkowski’s media outlet, We Are Change, claims he was held for over seven hours at a Chicago police precinct in connection with a separate incident and was questioned about Rudkowski.”
There seems little doubt that the government is mounting a two-pronged attack on the right to dissent. Protests are being contained using politically-sophisticated crowd control techniques, avoiding mass arrests which have been shown to increase support for the protesters, and public opinion is being manipulated by connecting demonstrations with the threat of violence and domestic terrorism. To maintain this narrative, independent press coverage of confrontations is being suppressed. More ominously, this strategy lays the legal foundation for detention without trial.
NOTE: This post was updated to make it clear that only the prosecution was claiming any connection of the arrested protesters with the black bloc.