This most recent case is nearly identical to the arrests preceding May Day demonstrations just weeks ago, and many others in which the FBI played a critical role in manufacturing “terrorist” plots in order to disrupt and discredit progressive social movements.
Details of the case are sparse, but Brian Church (22), Jared Chase (27), and Brent Betterly (24) were arrested on Wednesday and charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism, providing material support for terrorism and possession of an explosive incendiary device. Two other protesters, Sebastian Senakiewicz and Mark Neiweem, have been arrested on unrelated explosives charges.
The arrests came in the leadup to NATO protests in Chicago. Chicago cops and the FBI warned the public that “self-proclaimed anarchists” were about to attack Barack Obama’s re-election headquarters and the home of Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel with molotov cocktails. As tens of thousands of people took the streets in protest, the terrorism arrests stole headlines and sent a message, both to the movement and to the public.
According to court documents, the FBI and local police began a “covert investigation” in early May. The government says the defendants are “self-proclaimed anarchists, and members of the ‘Black Bloc’ group, who traveled from Florida to the Chicago area in preparation for committing terrorist acts of violence.”
This allegedly includes preparing molotov cocktails along with obtaining a mortar gun, swords, hunting bow, throwing stars, shields, gas masks and brass knuckles. At one point in the investigation, Church allegedly said that if a cop was going to point a gun at him, he would be “pointing one back.”
According to the police, danger to the public was imminent.
However, undercover cops and FBI agents were there, by their own admission, every step of the way. According to defense attorney Michael Deutsch, three undercover cops nicknamed “Nadia,” “Mo” and “Glove” befriended the defendants on May Day. And 2 of 9 people arrested were themselves undercover agents.
“From our information, the so-called incendiary devices and the plans to attack police stations — that’s all coming from the minds of the police informants and not coming from our clients, who are non-violent protesters,” Deutsch said.
PATTERN OF REPRESSION
This case is nearly identical to other high-profile “terrorism” arrests that occurred just prior to mass non-violent protests. For example:
- Cleveland 5 — just a few weeks ago, and days before national May Day protests coordinated by the Occupy movement, the FBI announced the arrest of activists on terrorism charges for plotting to destroy a bridge. FBI informants and undercover agents had a heavy hand in creating the alleged plot.
- RNC 8 — leading up to the 2008 Republican National Convention, 8 local organizers were arrested and charged with “conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism.” Charges were all later reduced to a misdemeanor carrying no jail time.
- Bradley Crowder and David McKay — arrested and accused of “terrorism” days before RNC protests. Activist-turned-informant Brandon Darby coaxed the two into plans for molotov cocktails (for more on this plot, see the excellent documentary Better This World).
All of these cases share key elements:
- FBI infiltration, and reliance on government informants to manufacture the “plot”
- Terrorism charges
- Labeling the defendants “self-proclaimed anarchists” (not only in the press, but in court documents). [Here is a bit more on the demonization of anarchism.]
- Unveiling the “domestic terrorism” arrests days before key protests
A SHIFT IN INTIMIDATION TACTICS
It’s nothing new to see widespread police misconduct and abuse in the days leading up to high-profile demonstrations. Anyone who has been to a few — whether it’s WTO, World Bank, IMF, or the Democratic and Republican national conventions — can see the pattern. In the late 90s, this often meant police raids of Indymedia centers, or evictions of community spaces on specious “fire code violations.” Cops take equipment, make a few arrests of “leaders,” and try to remind the rest of the protesters who is in charge.
In the last several years, though, that decades-old model has been transforming. All the old tactics are still there. But now the message is being sent not just through arrests or police violence, but through the FBI working with local cops to infiltrate and disrupt protest groups, provoke and coordinate illegal activity, and then charge some activists with “terrorism.”
The activists arrested in Chicago and Cleveland are going to have a very long, difficult time ahead. It’s important to support them and remind them that they are not alone. But it’s also critical that we recognize that they are not the only targets of these tactics.
These arrests, and many others like them, are not about thwarting a “terrorist plot.” They are preemptive attacks on radical social movements in order to instill fear in protesters (that they too could be targeted) and instill fear in the general public (that the “99 percent” are really “self-proclaimed anarchists” and “terrorists”).