FBI Recruiting Infiltrators for GOP Convention Protestors

This gets complicated. According to – City Pages (Minneapolis/St. Paul), Moles Wanted, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is recruiting people to infiltrate anti-GOP protest groups in the run-up to the upcoming Republican convention.

The law is clear that police may attend public meetings undercover to see what people are up to. And of course undercover operations in private settings are also legal, although there should be guidelines as to when they are appropriate. And of course it's good citizenship for private citizens to report crimes when they witness them.

But this story raises a number of serious questions.

First, there's this: the FBI told the potential informant that he “would be compensated for his efforts, but only if his involvement yielded an arrest. No exact dollar figure was offered.”

In other words, the FBI is recruiting unpaid volunteers to become infiltrators. And they get paid only if they give information leading to an arrest. Which creates a serious incentive for agents provocateurs. This is not a sensible policy at all. It is in fact a very bad idea.

Second, there's the weird description of the targets — “vegan potlucks” — and the general sense of massive overkill, which contributes to the chilling effect discussed in the article.

I also wonder whether a similar effort is underway for the Democratic convention (not that two wrongs make a right). If it is not, would that be because of a political bias in the FBI, or a considered judgment that McCain is more likely to be a target of violence than the first Black (or female) major-party Presidential candidate?

Bottom line: we don't want violence, but we also don't a stifling police presence that — whatever its motives — feels like an attempt to stifle dissent.

And we especially don't want to live in an informer nation in which people with no training and who knows what personal agendas are offered a chance to make money by stirring up trouble and then phoning the FBI.

Update: Emptywheel at Firedoglake has some good comments, notably:

How does one equate vegan potlucks with this restriction on permissible terrorist investigations?

Mere speculation that force or violence might occur during the course of an otherwise peaceable demonstration is not sufficient grounds for initiation of an investigation under this Subpart, but where facts or circumstances reasonably indicate that a group or enterprise has engaged or aims to engage in activities involving force or violence or other criminal conduct described in paragraph (1)(a) in a demonstration, an investigation may be initiated in conformity with the standards of that paragraph. [her emphasis]

It's a very good question. Rule of Law anyone?

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18 Responses to FBI Recruiting Infiltrators for GOP Convention Protestors

  1. C says:

    Welcome back, COINTELPRO! Good to see domestic spying has modernized to the 21st century and decided to outsource the dirtiest of the dirty work.

  2. hipparchia says:

    ‘vegan potlucks’, unless it’s some weird code word for something, suggests PETA. have they been up to anything violent recently?

  3. romath says:

    Unless something has changed, your comment about (American capitalist) law allowing police and their agents to attend public meetings for investigative purposes strikes me as misleading. They may be able to *try* to attend, but what law requires those holding or attending the meetings to let them in or to stay if identified? At Berkeley in the late 1960s and early 1970s, we threw (genuine) police, and spies and provocateurs working for them, out of meetings quite frequently.

    For the past 20-30 years, demonstration leaders have agreed to let police coral their groups into fenced areas, i.e., pens. That is a far greater danger to effective protest and free speech rights than police monitoring and spies and provocateurs pose. Prepared, effective leadership can go a long way toward counteracting the latter.

  4. michael says:

    I think ordinary trespass law applies to keeping people — including undercover or not-undercover police — out in such cases: assuming the even is a non-government function, people have to leave when asked to do so by the property owner/renter or agent of that owner/renter. So, as far as I know, you don’t have to let them stay if identified.

    But the cases I was thinking of were a series of decisions relating to the 1980’s Sanctuary movement, which reviewed cases of undercover infiltration of religious services and meetings. The bottom line of those somewhat complex cases, despite some judicial discomfort about the intrusion into religious worship, is that the government got to do it without a warrant.

    There are some suits ongoing at present about the penning of demonstrators into so-called “Free Speech Zones” (a name which aptly implies what the rest of the nation has become), but I don’t know if any have yet resulted in a decision.

  5. Gorshee says:

    I’d worry less about agents provacateur than about illegal interrogations. In theory at least, if protesters were “unpredisposed” to commit a crimes prior to contact by a government agent, any encouragement toward that crime by the agent is entrapment.

    But these unpaid volunteers are compensated only for “arrests,” which means they are motivated – not to incite crimes per se – but to gather evidence on individuals sufficient to justify an arrest warrant, or at least a stop-n-frisk.

    And these motivated infiltrators are newbies to police / legal work. I see potential for unreasonable searches violating the 4th Amendment, as well as all sorts of sloppy evidence problems.

  6. Nunyabiz says:

    Only way to stop this BS is for protesters to show up by the 100s of 1000s and flatly refuse to do ANYTHING the police try to pull.

  7. TheyDIDitINphilly says:

    I know they did this in Philadelphia in 2000. I suggest you check out any newcomers, thoroughly. If they resent it, then they are probably undercover cops. It is a continuation of Cointelpro, but on a local level as well as at the FBI level.

  8. TheyDIDitINphilly says:

    I know they did this in Philadelphia in 2000. I suggest you check out any newcomers, thoroughly. If they resent it, then they are probably undercover cops. It is a continuation of Cointelpro, but on a local level as well as at the FBI level.

  9. LACJ says:

    Entrapment by the government has already been greatly facilitated by changes to the rules of evidence preventing juries from learning about the agent or interest he has in the charges.

  10. Michael C says:

    and of course their real intent – and their real and ongoing victory – is that none of us trust one another anymore, and no effective counter to these jackboots is much less likely to ever get rolling.

  11. “if protesters were “unpredisposed” to commit a crimes prior to contact by a government agent, any encouragement toward that crime by the agent is entrapment.”

    LOL! I recall during the ’90’s, in the militia movement, they used to say you could identify the FBI infiltrators, because they were the ones who were always in favor of breaking the law.

  12. Chris says:

    When an FBI “informant” advises the FBI about a dangerous protester they can dunk the protester under water and if the protester drowns they are innocent, if they do not drown… they are guilty…

    This whole operation sickening. Where is the anti-government right wing when you need them……Oh, they’re in disquise as vegan hippies

  13. Pat Haelfern says:

    I recently responded to a slightly provocative ad on Craigslist which appears to be the same thing.
    It said this:

    We are now looking for 3 bloggers who can write short posts on various blogs about working from home, freelance writing, and career related topics.

    We are looking to hire more people before May 15th.

    Pay is $200 per week with 10-15 hours needed weekly.

    Figured it to be a come on.
    Keep an eye on your own local CL. Youll find this one under “Gigs, Writing”

  14. LACJ says:

    “and of course their real intent – and their real and ongoing victory – is that none of us trust one another anymore”

    Michael C: While I think there is no ‘their’ there, indeed the locked-down society requires distrust to be the norm. Any kind of community organization is suspect, if only for what it could become.

    The fully-informed jury movement, I believe, is a step in the right direction.

    But oversight of elections is number one at the moment, too bad this critical issue has been ignored by the press and candidates.

  15. Publius says:

    Dear FBI

    I will be your infiltrator.

    Figure out what I mean.

    Trust me.

  16. Carol says:

    Ohmygod; “same” old paranoid goats, different generation. Reminds me of the time I was living in a student co-op in Madison, Wis. and one of us turned out to be a government informer. He must have been really bored with us – we smoked grass, studied, cooked dinners for 30 people every night, watched Dick Cavett, studied, played music. We didn’t figure him out until the lease was up on the house and as we were all preparing to leave this guy started advocating for blowing up the house. Huh?! Of course, nobody went for it; this guy was trying to instigate an “event”. The authorities of the day couldn’t believe that if we looked different from them, and didn’t take a term paper about domino theory as foreign policy and a reason to go kill people/be killed, we must have been “communists”, “godless”, “dirty”, Immoral, etc. We could laugh at them, but you know, it get’s tiring to think these goats were so unable to think for themselves, to think. So able to label, to hate, to act on prejudice. So, this kind of thinking is still with us. Here we go again!

  17. The group described sounds like the Ron Paul supporters who have been actively protesting unfair meeting conduct by high members of the GOP. Its the only group where I’ve seen survivalists, vegetarians, anti-war demonstrators, and 2nd amendment advocates working together. These people sincerely believe that we have stopped following the constitution, and that by doing so have lost our republic. Since they want to change the status-quo they are considered radical, even if what they say is often true.

  18. george says:

    Awesome. I think that we need to keep tabs with the kooks, and the progresives (commies) who participate in these protests

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