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Infiltrating Black Lives Matter: Cops, Feds, and White Supremacists

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a major step forward in the ongoing struggle for Civil Rights in the United States and around the world. BLM was founded in 2013, following the acquittal over what organizers describe as 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s murderer, the gated community watchman, George Zimmerman. The organization came to international attention in July 2014, after its response to the suffocation to death of 43-year-old Eric Garner in New York by Officer Daniel Pantaleo and others, and in August of that year over the murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.

BLM is also fighting against federal and local spies, infiltrators, and provocateurs. Fascist groups have also joined the fight in an effort to accelerate their imagined, apocalyptic “race war.”

DHS & FEMA

The Department for Homeland Security (DHS)’s Office of Operations Coordination refined its craft by spying on Occupy Wall Street (2010-12). It turned its efforts to surveilling BLM events in Baltimore, Ferguson, New York, and Washington, DC. The DHS-Federal Emergency Management Agency alliance employed so-called WatchOps Officers to monitor social media and produce maps based on planned protest routes and times. Using software originally developed for conflict zones, DHS-FEMA also tracked BLM protests in Philadelphia a year later. The aim was to keep officers up-to-date as part of a “situational awareness” program, described by spokespeople as: “a common operating picture for the federal government, and for state, local, tribal governments as appropriate, in the event of a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster.” The system “ensures that critical terrorism and disaster-related information reaches government decision-makers.” BLM as terrorists? BLM as a natural disaster?

The FEMA branch of the DHS Watch Desk shared its gathered, real-time information with the FBI. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) considers BLM supporters domestic extremists because, according to one agent, “some individuals may engage in vandalism.” Some of the agents tracked the Bloomington protests in 2014. Local cop, David S. Langfellow of St. Paul, sent an email to his colleagues in the FBI’s JTTF. A confidential human source (CHS) “just confirmed the [Mall of America] protest I was taking to you about today, for the 20th of DEC @ 1400 hours.”

The FBI was worried about businesses being damaged and designated one document “for coordination with Monsanto,” the biotech giant now owned by Bayer. Federal agents tracked one BLM activist from New York to multiple states. The DHS National Operations Center was concerned about vital information coming from the DHS-funded Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency: that the annual Funk Parade would be bigger than expected.

NEW YORK & BLOOMINGTON

On December 17th 2014, BLM prepared to protest in Bloomington, Indiana. Local undercover police officers infiltrated meetings. Bloomington City Attorney, Sandra Johnson, said that she wanted BLM to pay for police overtime. The following BLM activists were charged with the following offenses: Michael McDowell (aged 21), trespassing, aiding and abetting trespassing, unlawful assembly, aiding and abetting unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct, and aiding and abetting the former; Mica Grimm (24), ditto (minus disorderly conduct); Kandace Montgomery (24), ditto plus public nuisance and aiding and abetting; Catherine Salonek (26) ditto, minus nuisance and aiding and abetting nuisance. Others arrested for similar “offenses” included Catherine Salonek (26), Todd Dahlstrom (49), Adja Gildersleve (25), Shannon Bade (45), Jie Wronski-Riley (18), Amity Foster (38), and Nekima Levy Pounds (38).

In 2014, the New York Police Department (NYPD) spied on, infiltrated, and used informants against protesters. At 10 p.m. on December 5th, one cop emailed: “Team 5 undercover states one group is on Charles street and other group is proceeding northbound on the west side highway.” Referring to the now-defunct Organized Crime Control Bureau (OCCB), another emailed: “Realistically, if our sources r not gonna have anything significant to contribute tonight, cut em loose. I still got occb team” (sic).

The law firm Stecklow & Thompson obtained heavily-redacted NYPD records proving that the agency had infiltrated BLM and stole their messages. The times at which the infiltrators attended are redacted, presumably to hide the ID of the officers in question. The surveillance mainly consisted of undercover cops following the protests and reporting back to their superiors. Referring to Grand Central Station in which a “die-in” had taken place, one message read: “We are now walking westbound on 42 of Vanderbilt do u want [redacted] to stay at gcs or follow the group” (sic). Another stated: “grand is expecting a new group of protesters at 1900 hrs.”

BLM organizer, Elsa Waithe, said of one text loop: “[it] was definitely just for organizers,

I don’t know how that got out … Someone had to have told someone how to get on it, probably trusting someone they had seen a few times in good faith. We clearly compromised ourselves.” Attendee, Keegan Stephen, said: “I feel like the undercover was somebody who was or is very much a part of the group, and has access to information we only give to people we trust.” Retired NYPD detective sergeant, Professor Joseph Giacalone said: “This could have been going on a while before for these people to get so close to the inner circle.”

FASCISTS

Historically, the state has allied with far-right groups and even fascists as proxies to attack the left. For instance: FBI Ku Klux Klan informants were involved in the September 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which murdered four girls. More directly, the FBI informant, Gary Thomas Rowe (who was also involved in the bombing), shot and killed an unnamed black man: a murder covered up by his FBI handlers.

The same is happening today. The recent, ongoing protests triggered by the murder of George Floyd has attracted the far-right.

Rinaldo Nazzaro, known as Norman Spear, is reportedly a CIA field intelligence officer and private contractor, working as a white supremacist in the US. “Join the Base, save your Race,” urge the organization’s flyers. The Base has bought property, presumably to double as training camps, and advocates for attacking synagogues. Some on the right and left favour a philosophy known as accelerationism: the system is going to collapse anyway, so let’s speed it up and rebuild it from scratch. Left accelerationists want to facilitate an anarchistic system. Right-wingers, conversely, want a totalitarian ethno-state. VICE reports: The Base and Atomwaffen Division “are major proponents of accelerationism.” VICE also notes: “Far-right extremists are showing up” at BLM protests “with guns.”

Attorney, Tiff Roberts of BLM Atlanta (ATL), tweeted: “Any e-mail coming from BLM@Gmail.com is NOT coming from @Mvmnt4BlkLives or allies in ATL. Please be mindful that movement is being infiltrated at the moment and people are being lured into unsafe environments.” State authorities confirmed that around 80 percent of those arrested in the Twin Cities were from out of town. Justin Terrell, executive director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, said: “I think about a third of the people are from out of town here to make the city burn.”

CONCLUSION

As a weapon against the hated Donald Trump, whose informal alliance with far-right groups is part of his voter-mobilization strategy, the “liberal left” media as well as Democratic politicians are suddenly professing concern for the plight of Afro-Americans, having spent decades being part of the system that leads to their socioeconomic and mental torture. Despite the cynicism of these mostly-white political movers and shakers in backing BLM, their surface-level support presents an opportunity for black Americans to take another, small step forward in the eternal struggle for equality.

T. J. Coles is director of the Plymouth Institute for Peace Research and the author of several books, including Voices for Peace (with Noam Chomsky and others) and  Fire and Fury: How the US Isolates North Korea, Encircles China and Risks Nuclear War in Asia (both Clairview Books).

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