Thursday, September 25, 2008

Musings: Faux Terrorists

One of the things I really like about living on Kauai, and having a car with no AC that forces me to roll the windows down, is driving along and hearing bird sounds: the metallic notes of a meadow lark perched on a pasture fence; the raucous squabbling of mynah beneath banana trees; the nasal honking of nene, flying formation overhead.

I passed a hunter’s truck parked in a backcountry driveway the other afternoon, the owner inside the house, the dogs outside, waiting, viewing the world through the three-inch window between the top of the pick-up bed and the low plywood roof that contained them.

It was a narrow view, much like the one the government takes of citizen groups that become too successful at operating outside “the system,” as became clear when a friend called the other day to recount what’s happening to Food Not Bombs.

My friend had been involved with them years before in Boston, and still maintains contact with founder Keith McHenry, who took the very radical step back in 1980 of setting up a miso soup table and passing out day-old bakery goods in front of the Bank of Boston as the directors met inside.

The purpose was to draw attention to the plight of the poor, and encourage investments in programs that build communities, rather than destroy them through war and violence. Since then, Food Not Bombs has become a worldwide organization, with organizations in 50 different countries and 40 American states.

Anyway, my friend called Keith for a chat this past weekend. He wanted to find out how things are going since the St. Paul police staged a pre-emptive raid on a Food Not Bombs cookhouse before the start of the Republican National Convention, arresting volunteers and charging several of them with conspiracy to commit riot.

The answer: not good. Seems that Keith’s bank accounts have been frozen, bank deposits have gone missing, his mail has been intercepted and opened, and Food Not Bombs handbooks that are sent out never reach their intended recipients.

Needless to say, all this has greatly disrupted Keith's life and the organization. But Keith apparently found it equally hard to watch television commentators label his organization, which is committed to non-violent social change, as one of the top terrorist groups in the nation.

So how did this happen? Well, the FBI reportedly paid a woman $80,000 to infiltrate the group and try and persuade the members to go along with a plan to blow up some bridges, even supplying her with blasting caps for that purpose. Although the group wasn’t interested, they didn’t actively discourage her.

“In anarchy, you don’t tell somebody don’t do that, or you can’t do that,” my friend explained. “If they want to do it, that’s their trip.”

One guy, however, fell for the woman romantically, and agreed to help her. Now he’s facing 17 years in prison, and the entire group has been branded a violent, terrorist organization as a result.

“The government caused the terrorism to manifest in the group through infiltration,” my friend said. “I just can’t believe how ludicrous this is, how ridiculous. It’s a big smear campaign.”

And it’s working, just as it`s worked with numerous other radical social groups. When they become effective at mobilizing the disaffected and disenfranchised, that’s when the government sends in the paid infiltrators that ultimately destroy them.

“The government can handle the bombs,” my friend said. “It’s the food that scares the shit out of them.”


Anonymous said...

"...a plan to blow up some bridges, even supplying her with blasting caps for that purpose."

There you have it, Joan. They supplied someone they thought was going to blow up a bridge with explosive devices. That's aiding and abetting. A crime. If it was only about the food, why did they supply the detonation devices? That was pretty stupid. If what you say is true and they were actually doing some good in the community supplying food, why did they go and screw it all up by aiding a bomber? Sorry, Joan. that's a crime and they deserve their punishment. I question your judgement in portraying that as anything other than a crime. Bombs are not a peaceful vehicle.

Joan Conrow said...

The FBI supplied the infiltrator with the blasting caps.

Katy said...

It's easy for those with nothing but a surface familiarity with anarchism to associate it with violence, yet anarchism, which explicitly rejects illegitimate and oppressive authority, naturally abhors violent coercion. What is commonly referred to as "terrorism" is abhorrent to anarchists who believe in community-based approaches to social justice. It goes without saying that Food Not Bombs is not in favor of bombs.
Anarchism is not a philosophy which can be defined in monolithic terms, of course. But generally anarchists work to subvert capitalism by creating community- rather than market-based alternatives, such as bartering, free food, independent media, and so on.

As Joan's post suggest, the state is mostly worried about those alternatives creating a viable threat than it is worried about violence. The logic of violence and coercion is,after all, the state's area of expertise.

Anonymous said...

It is classic entrapment by an agent provocateur. See:

Police agencies have lost their reason when they resort to paid informants to infiltrate groups and then incite criminal activity.

Even when it makes sense to have informants probe a group's activities, the handlers must guard against the informant proving their worth to the employer by inciting crimes. If the informant doesn't deliver valuable intelligence, they will either lose their income or it will decline. Convince your handler that you are associating with dangerous people, and your value to the employing agency will go up.

This is a form of police corruption. They have bought into an ignorant view of what anarchism means and their brain has spun off its axis, impairing their judgment and overlooking the obvious signals that the informant has run amuck.

There has been a great increase in the use of "secret police" tactics among US law enforcement agencies since the activists shut down the WTO meeting in Seattle. There is a significant niche industry making large profits, a sort of junior "military industrial complex" involved in the militarization of police response to public protests.

The woman who convinced the fellow to support her plot to blow up the bridges should be the one facing jail time. She was the ringleader. The cops who ran her should be public exposed and fired. This secret police mindset should be draggeed into the open through public hearings or trials and repudiated. The cops in this case have been infected with a political virus which has impaired their ability to analyze the situation, recognize the US Constitution adn do their job effectively.

And send the Star War/stormtrooper/ RoboCop costumes back to the manufacturer. Once a cop puts on that uniform the costume tends to take over their brain and determine how they interact with the public, as well as how the public perceives them. This is "the Dark Side" capturing the minds of our police. Those costumes are actively evil--destructive of the humanity of the wearer. To turn a bad thing into a good thing, they should be recycled into protective gear for kids riding bicylces.

Anonymous said...

I agree with sister katy rose on this. But the evil dynamic which distorts the judgment of the police also expresses itself in the minds of some demonstrators as well. The tactics of the Black Bloc activists sometimes strike me as a mirrored response to the police repression. And the Black Bloc bandanna masks sometimes provide a convenient cover for police agent infiltrators.

Even if one does not feel bound by Gandhi's complete non-violence, one should take seriously his deep reflections on the corrupting reciprocal dynamic of violence. For the police to deny our civil rights, or tear gas us, or corner us on a street, blocking off all exits and then wading into us with clubs wailing, they have to first stop seeing our common humanity, our reasonableness, the justice of our claims. The best "weapon" in undermining the self-conceived (and publicly perceived) "legitimacy" of police repression is to struggle to remain in touch with our own humanity, not to hide it away behind pseudo-revolutionary tactics or donning black masks of our own.

What is the attraction of violent men towards black costumes? Both the cops and the Black Blockers?

Unfortunately, the BB'ers have internalized the same stereotyped understanding of anarchism as the cops. And, if we cannot tell which of them are police agents and which are simply "overly enthusiastic" but well-intended, we need to dissociate ourselves from them.

This is where I strongly disagree with Joan's friend's notion that we cannot tell them what to do. We live in social relationships. We have a responsibility to share our thoughts with each other, particularly when we have developed relationships through common political work. An anarchist may not want to resort to force against another "anarchist," but if your friend thinks we are not allowed to use reason to try to impact their behavior, your friend's notion of anarchism is screwed up.

Joan Conrow said...

I agree, Emma, especially with your assertion: "But the evil dynamic which distorts the judgment of the police also expresses itself in the minds of some demonstrators as well."

That type of behavior has created an inaccurate public perception of anarchism and allowed the police to justify their own repressive and violent actions.

My definition of anarchy certainly does not preclude speaking up and using arguments of reason and/or morality to try and discourage others from engaging in violent and inappropriate behavior, no matter who they are.