AFRICANGLOBE – A supervisor with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force office in Minneapolis, Minnesota, helped police monitor a Black Lives Matter protest last December.
The Intercept obtained an email from a St. Paul police officer and FBI JTTF member, David S. Langfellow, which informed a Bloomington police officer that a “confidential human source” has “confirmed” the Mall of America “protest I was talking to you about today” for the 20th of December at 2 pm. JTTF supervisor and FBI special agent in the Minneapolis office, Jeffrey VanNest, was copied on the email. (The email was not published.)
Journalist Lee Fang obtained a statement from an unnamed FBI spokesperson, who claimed the source was not an infiltrator but rather a “tipster with whom Mr. Langfellow” was “familiar.” The “tipster had discovered some information while on Facebook” that “some individuals” might engage in vandalism at the Mall of America protest.
From The Intercept report:
Upon receiving the email, Bloomington police officer and task force member Benjamin Mansur forwarded it to Bloomington’s then-deputy police chief Rick Hart, adding “Looks like it’s going to be the 20th…” It was then forwarded to all Bloomington police command staff. There is no mention of potential vandalism anywhere in the email chain, and no vandalism occurred at the Mall of America protest.
The spokesperson admitted the FBI had no “interest” in the Black Lives Matter campaign and acknowledged that the FBI is not supposed to interfere with First Amendment-protected activities. He apparently recognized that “vandalism” is not something local police on JTTF are supposed to be preventing, preempting or investigating as terrorism acts. And, as for why Langfellow would have copied VanNest, the spokesperson chose to speculate that it was just a “matter of courtesy.”
The official statement put out by the unnamed FBI spokesperson is at least better than how the FBI responded to allegations that it was coordinating with police responding to Occupy protests. The FBI maintained reported allegations were false. Yet, in this case, the FBI is claiming that police are merely being “courteous” when they provide information from “tipsters” to the JTTF about protests.
What the spokesperson omits is how numerous FBI agents believe that peaceful protests are events terrorists or “violent anarchists” may “infiltrate” and exploit to “commit criminal acts.” The perceived threat is the pretext for taking note of any and all acts of dissent.
Additionally, even though the JTTF is not supposed to be used to investigate or respond to mere acts of property damage, Will Potter of GreenIstheNewRed.com, reported on raids of homes in Portland on July 25, 2012, which JTTF were involved. The FBI claimed they were there for an “ongoing violent crime” investigation yet the agents in paramilitary gear really were targeting “anarchists” suspected of being involved in vandalism that took place at a May Day protest in Seattle.
FBI seized computers, black clothing and any “anarchist” literature they could find. They took a “zip-up hoodie,” a glove, and fliers and pamphlets from an Occupy action that anyone could have been given if they had walked by the action. It was all to see if any individuals could be connected to what authorities referred to as “May Day riots” and the investigation had nothing to do with combating terrorism.
In fact, Fang notes that Langfellow, as a JTTF member, was part of a 2008 raid against St. Paul activists ahead of the Republican National Convention RNC.
The FBI targeted and infiltrated multiple groups ahead of the RNC. The agency deployed an informant named Andrew Darst to spy on “anarchists” in the RNC Welcoming Committee. He helped the FBI make arrests of the “RNC 8″ days before the RNC. They were initially charged with criminal conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism. (Later, Darst faced charges of assault and burglary in a separate case after he allegedly broke into a house and attacked two men.) The agency also had an infiltrator named “Karen Sullivan” infiltrate the Anti-War Committee in Minneapolis, which was spearheading a major march.
All this COINTELPRO-style targeting of activists can be justified by the belief that this helps the FBI collect intelligence on whether any persons plan to exploit protests and commit acts of violence. This effectively becomes a pretext for disrupting and interfering with planned First Amendment-activities.
While police may out of “courtesy” share information—or intelligence—with FBI supervisors when they are planning responses to protests, it is more likely that this coordination is as routine as it was shown to be in documents released to independent journalist Yana Kunichoff, which showed the FBI spied on Occupy Chicago and helped police keep tabs on Occupy protesters.
The documents indicated that FBI agents conducted interviews for “Contact & Espionage” and shared intelligence with Chicago police. The FBI tracked a person headed to Omaha, Nebraska, to join a protest against a home eviction in March 2012. The FBI’s Omaha Division was notified that agents had obtained “positive terrorism” intelligence and that the “anarchist” was going to link up with other “like minded anarchists” in Nebraska.
In the national movement, how many participants or alleged participants in the Black Lives Matter campaign have been tracked or spied upon by FBI agents? How much coordination has taken place between the FBI and local law enforcement?
The extent of spying on the Occupy movement still remains unknown, as the FBI persists in fighting the release of records (even though its public position is that it never coordinated with police on strategy or tactics). Have Black Lives Matter protesters been targeted more than Occupy protesters, who setup encampments?
Eleven people, who participated in the December 20 action where about 1,500 people were present, face misdemeanor charges, including disorderly conduct, trespassing and unlawful assembly. They have pled not guilty. Mall of America seeks $40,000 in damages for extra security and business lost because a part of the Mall was shut down to customers.
To what extent has any of this monitoring of Black Lives Matters protests been driven by corporate interests? For example, Bloomington city attorneys and the Mall of America colluded on whether to charge protesters involved in the demonstration. Sandra Johnson, a city attorney, even advised Mall of America to monitor protesters’ social media use and save copies of content in case the content was removed after charges were filed against protesters.
FBI and police can claim all they want that they do not target activists on behalf of corporate interests. The fact of the matter is that FBI agents have been visiting homes of activists, who have been engaged in direct action against the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline and northbound shipments of equipment to Canada.
Black Lives Matter activists have used Walmart stores for their actions. They have also been in other malls throughout the country, including a mall with stores specifically geared toward the upper-class in St. Louis. To what extent have their corporate counsels communicated interest in pressing charges to protect their business? And how have police and the FBI responded?
Most are well aware that the FBI’s crushing of Black Americans involved in dissent goes all the way back to the days of COINTELPRO in the 1960s, when the FBI was out to stifle whole entire student organizations fighting for justice and civil rights.
Today, there are constant signs that these same tactics continue to be employed against activists in slick and more subtle forms. And, to the extent that a police department believes any gathering of Black people may be prone to violence, FBI agents have likely to be kept in the loop by police.
By: Kevin Gosztola