September 8, 2008

Preemptive Strike on the First Amendment

Sticks & stones may break my bones but urine is WAAAAAAAAAY over the line! It's all too ridiculously predictable, like a terrible movie. Don't you wish we change the ending?

Storm Troopers at the RNC

By Ray McGovern
September 8, 2008

[...] When I flew into St. Paul on the evening of Aug. 30, I encountered a din in local media about “preemptive strikes” on those already congregating there to demonstrate against the Iraq war and injustice against the poor in our country.

St. Paul’s Pioneer Press expressed surprise that “despite preemptive police searches” and arrests, a group calling itself “the RNC Welcoming Committee” was still intent on “disrupting the convention.”

[...] Ironically, it was FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley, living in the St. Paul area, who served warning of precisely that in her hard-hitting Feb. 26, 2003, letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller, three weeks before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. [NYT, March 6, 2003]

Confronting Mueller on a number of key issues (like “What is the FBI’s evidence with respect to the claimed connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq?”), Rowley warned of the trickle-down effect of “the administration’s new policy of ‘preemptive strikes’”:

“I believe it would be prudent to be on guard against the possibility that the looser ‘preemptive strike’ rationale being applied to situations abroad could migrate back home, fostering a more permissive attitude on the part of law enforcement officers in this country.”

Rowley called Mueller’s attention to the abuses of civil rights that had already occurred since 9/11, and pointedly warned “particular vigilance may be required to head off undue pressure (including subtle encouragement) to detain or ‘round up’ suspects.”

[...] The “preemption” began on Friday, Aug. 29, well before the RNC began on Monday, Sept. 1.

An academic doing research on social movement organizations, who for several months has been observing the main protesters — the RNC Welcoming Committee, the Coalition to March on the RNC and End the War, and the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign — provided this account:

“On Friday evening the space in St. Paul that was being rented by the Welcoming Committee was raided by riot police, who knocked in the door with automatic weapons drawn, forced the 60-70 activists inside onto the floor, handcuffed them, then proceeded to confiscate all the banner-making supplies and movement literature. [Is this how a democratic country treats its citizens?]

“Over the course of several hours the cops interrogated, photographed, ran warrant checks, and eventually, released everyone one by one. Then they closed down the space for a code violation. The next morning a city code inspector arrived and found no basis for closing the space.

“Saturday morning was one of escalation and terror. The Ramsey County Sheriff Department, together with the St. Paul police, Homeland Security, and the FBI raided four private houses. At 8:00 AM, dozens of cops in SWAT gear broke down the door of one house where about a dozen activists were staying. They were awakened with rifle barrels in their faces and forced to lie face down for more than an hour. [my bold]

“The cops stole all the computers and other electronic devices in the house, and core members of the Welcoming Committee sleeping there were arrested. It being a holiday weekend, those arrested for alleged crimes could not arrive in court until Wednesday, at the earliest. Thus, those trying to organize demonstrations will be in jail for the entire time the RNC is going on. Four other houses were raided and dozens of activists were detained.”

The academic who wrote the report appealed to those concerned over “this enormous police over-kill” to contact the Twin Cities’ mayors and demand an end to the “witch hunt.”

He added, “The people who were arrested were some of the gentlest, most dedicated activists I’ve ever met.” A far cry from the “criminal enterprise” described by notorious Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher.[...]

[... St. Paul City Councilman Dave] Thune objected in particular to Fletcher’s deputies using battering rams to knock down doors, then entering with guns drawn, and forcing people to the ground, [my bold] as they did on Friday night.

[...] On the fringes there was some property damage and further arrests. What violence there was bore the earmarks of provocation by the likes of Sheriff Fletcher and his Homeland Security, FBI, and, according to one well-sourced report, Blackwater buddies.

That’s right. Agent provocateurs.

Primary targets of the repression were the alternative media, [my bold] including any and all those who might have a camera to record the brutality — as was successfully done at the RNC in New York four years ago.

The manner in which Amy Goodman and the two producers of “Democracy Now!” were deliberately mistreated was clearly to serve as a warning that the rules had gone up in smoke — the First Amendment be damned.

[...] I observed no violence at all; yet, the police/FBI/national guard/and who-knows-who-else decided they needed to clear the streets. My friends and I narrowly escaped being tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, or worse. It was an overwhelming show of force — not to protect, but to intimidate.

[...] After the widespread kidnapping, torture, indefinite imprisonment, and our cowardly Congress’ empowerment of the president to imprison sine die anyone he might designate an “enemy combatant” — after all that...well, it seems to me that reading a person his/her rights takes on more, not less, importance.

Not to mention the massive repression then under way right outside the convention hall.

[...] The young protesters had some success in exposing infiltrators in their ranks. During confrontations, members of the Welcoming Committee, in particular, took copious photos of law enforcement officers and then memorized the faces. [my bold]

This tactic worked like a charm in one of the St. Paul parks, when a man who looked like a protester — dark clothes, backpack, a bit disheveled — walked by.

One of the protesters recognized the man’s face and searched through her camera until she found a photo of the man actually performing the raid on the Welcoming Committee’s headquarters on Friday night.

The young protesters asked the man, and two associates, to leave the park, at which point the three hustled into a nearby unmarked sedan.

The license plate, observed by a Pioneer Press reporter, traced back to the detective unit of the Hennepin County sheriff’s office, according to the county’s Central Mobile Equipment Division.

Protesters later picked two other men out of the day’s planned march — one because he was wearing brand-new tennis shoes. [Ah! The shoes always give cops away. Or jeans that look ironed.] The two left without indicating whether they were with the organs of public safety.[...]

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
Hey, kids, special treat! They took everything but the kitchen sink. Read it yourself and believe it or not.

Police document

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