2012-05-29 "Inside the FBI Entrapment Strategy"
Over the past month, the FBI has initiated a spate of entrapment operations [http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/three-nato-protesters-terrorists/6119/]
designed to frame anarchists as “terrorists.” Significantly, they have
not targeted longtime organizers, but rather people who are relatively
peripheral to anarchist communities.
In response, we’ve prepared a
pamphlet suitable for a wide readership explaining how this entrapment
strategy works, and an analysis exploring why the FBI has adopted it.
Please circulate these widely.
Reading PDF [550kb] [http://cloudfront.crimethinc.com/images/bounty/Bounty-Hunters_Reading.pdf]
Imposed PDF for Printing [550kb] [http://cloudfront.crimethinc.com/images/bounty/Bounty-Hunters_Imposed.pdf]
The Latest Trend in Repression -
Not so long ago, it seemed that the FBI focused on pursuing accomplished anarchists: Marie Mason [http://supportmariemason.org/] and Daniel McGowan [http://supportdaniel.org/]
were both arrested after lengthy careers involving everything from
supporting survivors of domestic violence to ecologically-minded arson.
It isn’t surprising that the security apparatus of the state targeted
these activists: they were courageously threatening the inequalities and
injustices the state is founded upon.
However, starting with the entrapment case of Eric McDavid [http://supporteric.org/]—framed
for a single conspiracy charge by an infiltrator who used his
attraction to her to manipulate him into discussing illegal actions—the
FBI seem to have switched strategies, focusing on younger targets who
haven’t actually carried out any actions.
They stepped up this new strategy during the 2008 Republican National Convention, at which FBI informants Brandon Darby [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandon_Darby] and Andrew Darst [http://rnc08report.org/archive/542.shtml%20target=] set up David McKay [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_McKay_(activist)], Bradley Crowder [http://www.pbs.org/pov/betterthisworld/character-bios-crowder.php], and Matthew DePalma [http://rnc08report.org/archive/844.shtml]
on charges of possessing Molotov cocktails in two separate incidents.
It’s important to note that the only Molotov cocktails that figured in
the RNC protests at any point were the ones used to entrap these young
men: the FBI were not responding to a threat, but inventing one.
the past month, the FBI have shifted into high gear with this approach.
Immediately before May Day, five young men were set up on terrorism
charges in Cleveland after an FBI infiltrator apparently guided them
into planning to bomb a bridge, in what would have been the only such
bombing carried out by anarchists in living memory [http://www.salon.com/2012/05/18/who_gets_to_be_an_fbi_threat/singleton/].
During the protests against the NATO summit in Chicago, three young men
were arrested and charged with terrorist conspiracy once again
involving the only Molotov cocktails within hundreds of miles [http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/three-nato-protesters-terrorists/6119/] [http://chicagoist.com/2012/05/20/nato_terror_plot.php], set up by at least two FBI informants [http://truth-out.org/news/item/9273-more-nato-summit-activists-charged-five-linked-by-two-informants].
Undercover informants from the NATO entrapment cases
and “Gloves” (aka “Nadiya”) [http://www.antiwar.com/blog/2012/05/22/pictures-of-second-nato-5-informant-gloves-published-for-first-time-on-antiwar-com/]
of the targets of these entrapment cases seem to be longtime anarchist
organizers. None of the crimes they’re being charged with are
representative of the tactics that anarchists have actually used over
the past decade. All of the cases rest on the efforts of FBI informants
to manufacture conspiracies. All of the arrests have taken place
immediately before mass mobilizations, enabling the authorities to frame
a narrative justifying their crackdowns on protest as thwarting
terrorism. And in all of these cases, the defendants have been described
as anarchists in the legal paperwork filed against them, setting
precedents for criminalizing anarchism.
Why Entrapment? Why Now?
Why is the FBI focusing on entrapping
inexperienced young people rather than going after seasoned anarchists?
Isn’t that just plain bad sportsmanship? And why are they intensifying
For one thing, experienced activists are harder to catch.
Unlike anarchists, FBI agents work for money, not necessarily out of
passion or conviction. Their reports often read like second-rate
homework assignments even as they wreck people’s lives [http://supporteric.org/sacramento_affidavit___crim_complaint.pdf].
Agents get funding and promotions based on successful cases, so they
have an incentive to set people up; but why go after challenging
targets? Why not pick the most marginal, the most vulnerable, the most
isolated? If the goal is simply to frame somebody, it doesn’t really
matter who the target is.
Likewise, the tactics anarchists have
actually been using are likely to be more popular with the general
public than the tactics infiltrators push them towards. Smashing bank
windows, for example, may be illegal, but it is increasingly understood
as a meaningful political statement; it would be difficult to build a
convincing terrorism case around broken glass.
also have much broader support networks. The FBI threatened Daniel
McGowan with a mandatory life sentence plus 335 years in prison [http://www.crimethinc.com/texts/images/green_scare_chart.pdf];
widespread support enabled him to obtain a good lawyer, and the
prosecution had to settle for a plea bargain for a seven-year sentence
or else admit to engaging in illegal wiretapping [http://www.crimethinc.com/blog/2007/12/02/daniel-mcgowan-prison-blog-now-online/].
Going after disconnected young people dramatically decreases the
resources that will be mobilized to support them. If the point is to set
precedents that criminalize anarchism while producing the minimum
blowback, then it is easier to manufacture “terror” cases by means of
agents provocateurs than to investigate actual anarchist activity.
all, this kind of proactive threat-creation enables FBI agents to
prepare make-to-order media events. If a protest is coming up at which
the authorities anticipate using brutal force, it helps to be able to
spin the story in advance as a necessary, measured response to violent
criminals. This also sows the seeds of distrust among activists, and
intimidates newcomers and fence-sitters out of having anything to do
with anarchists. The long-range project here, presumably choreographed
by FBI leadership rather than rank-and-file agents, is not just to frame
a few unfortunate arrestees, but thus to hamstring the entire
How to Destroy a Movement -
As we saw in the Green Scare [http://www.crimethinc.com/texts/recentfeatures/greenscared.php],
FBI repression often does not begin in earnest until a movement has
begun to fracture and subside, diminishing the targets’ support base.
The life cycle of movements passes ever faster in our hyper-mediatized
era; the Occupy phenomenon peaked in November 2011 and has already
slowed down [http://www.adbusters.org/blogs/adbusters-blog/occupy-spiritual-quest.html], emboldening the authorities to consolidate control and take revenge.
anarchist values and practices become increasingly central to protest
movements, the authorities are anxious to incapacitate and delegitimize
anarchists. Yet in this context, it’s still inconvenient to admit to
targeting people for anarchism alone—that could spread the wrong
narrative, rallying outrage against transparently political persecution.
Likewise, they dare not initiate repression without a narrative
portraying the targets as alien to the rest of the movement, even if
that repression is calculated to destroy the movement itself.
Fortunately for the FBI, a few advocates of “nonviolence” within the Occupy movement were happy to provide this narrative [https://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/11/14-8] [http://crimethinc.com/texts/recentfeatures/violence.php],
disavowing everyone who didn’t affirm their narrow tactical framework.
Journalists like Chris Hedges took this further by framing the “black
bloc” as a kind of people rather than a tactic [http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_cancer_of_occupy_20120206/] —despite even the Chicago Sun-Times comprehending the distinction [http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/12647946-418/black-bloc-a-tactic-not-a-group.html].
Hedges led the charge to consign those who actively defended themselves
against state repression to this fabricated political category—in
effect, designating them legitimate targets. It is no coincidence that
entrapment cases followed soon after.
“The individuals we charged are
not peaceful protesters, they are domestic terrorists,” [state attorney
Anita] Alvarez said. “The charges we bring today are not indicative of a
protest movement that has been targeted.”
The authorities swiftly took up this narrative. In a recent Fox News article advancing the FBI agenda [http://www.myfoxtampabay.com/story/18599070/the-men-in-black-with-a-violent-agenda],
we see the authorities parroting Chris Hedges’ talking points—“they use
the Occupy Movement as a front, but have their own violent agenda”—in
order to frame the black bloc as a “home-grown terror group.” The
article also describes the Cleveland arrestees as “Black Bloc
anarchists,” without evidence that any of them have ever participated in
a black bloc.
The goal here is clearly to associate a form of
activity—acting anonymously, defending oneself against police
attacks—with a kind of people: terrorists, evildoers, monsters. This is a
high priority for the authorities: they were able to crush the Occupy
movement much more quickly, at least relative to its numbers, in cities
where people did not act anonymously and defend themselves—hence Occupy
Oakland’s longevity compared to other Occupy groups. The aim of the FBI
and corporate media, with the collusion of Chris Hedges and others, is
to ensure that when people see a masked crowd that refuses to kowtow to
coercive authority, they don’t think, “Good for them for standing up for
themselves,” but rather, “Oh no—a bunch of terrorist bombers.”
To recapitulate the FBI strategy:
-divide and conquer the movement by isolating the most combative participants
-stage-manage entrapments of vulnerable targets at the periphery
-use these arrests to delegitimize all but the most docile, and to justify ever-increasing police violence.
What Comes Next -
authorities are explicitly announcing that there will be more of these
“sting operations” at the upcoming Republican National Convention in
Tampa [http://www.myfoxtampabay.com/story/18599070/the-men-in-black-with-a-violent-agenda]. We can expect more and more “unsportsmanlike” entrapments in the years to come.
decades now, movements have defended themselves against police
surveillance and infiltration by practicing security culture. This has
minimized the effectiveness of police operations against experienced
activists. However, it can’t always protect those who are new to
anarchism or activism, who haven’t had time to internalize complex
habits and practices, and these are exactly the people that the FBI
entrapment strategy targets.
Three years ago, we called for a
collective security culture that could protect even newcomers against
infiltrators. In a time of widespread social ferment, however, even this
is not sufficient to thwart the FBI: we can’t hope to reach and protect
every single desperate, angry,vulnerable person in our society.
Infiltrators need only find one impressionable young person, however
peripheral, to advance their strategy. These are inhuman bounty hunters:
they don’t balk at taking advantage of any weakness, any need, any
mental health issue.
If we are to protect the next generation of
young people from these predators, our only hope is to mobilize a
popular reaction against entrapment tactics. Only a blowback against the
FBI themselves can halt this strategy. This will not be easy, but there
is no better alternative.
Don’t stop speaking out, organizing, and
fighting—that won’t stop them from repressing us or entrapping people.
Retreating will only embolden them: we can only protect ourselves by
increasing our power to fight back, not by withdrawing, not by hiding,
not by behaving.
The best defense is a good offense. So long as
capitalism is unstable—that is to say, until it collapses—there will be
repression. Let’s meet it head on [http://antistatestl.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/chicago-solidarity-demonstration-in-st-louis-ends-with-arrests-after-police-scuffle/].
Further Reading -
What Is Security Culture? [http://www.crimethinc.com/texts/atoz/security.php]
Towards a Collective Security Culture [http://www.crimethinc.com/blog/2009/06/24/towards-a-collective-security-culture/]
Cleveland 5 Support Website [http://www.cleveland5justice.org/about-the-5/]
Lisa Fithian’s Experiences with FBI Informant Brandon Darby [http://theragblog.blogspot.com/2010/03/lisa-fithian-fbi-informant-brandon.html]