[Ppnews] Profiles of Provocateurs
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jun 10 14:27:19 EDT 2011
Profiles of Provocateurs
by Kristian Williams
Thursday Jun 9th, 2011 8:54 AM
Recent case studies; warning signs; practical advice
A recent article in Seattle's Stranger detailed a
long-term police operation to monitor,
infiltrate, and entrap activists in Seattle: "The
Long Con," by Brendan Kiley, May 4, 2011:
The story is long, convoluted, and more than a
little absurd; it's all rather like the plot of a
Coen Brothers' movie. But the short version is
that an undercover Seattle cop infiltrated an
after-hours party scene -- what prosecutors
called "underground illegal gambling enterprises
(concurrent with illegal liquor sales)." (All
quotes in this section are from the Stranger
article.) The SPD hoped to find some dirt on
local politicians, the FBI hoped to find a
connection to the Earth Liberation Front, and
after two years they finally managed to hook someone with a drug scam:
"Bryan [Owens] had been pushing Rick [Wilson]and
everyone in their social setfor years to help
him buy ever-larger amounts of cocaine. . . . he
tried to play on people's greed. 'He's like, "I
can make you a millionaire,"' Rick remembers. . .
. 'He said he would pay for the drugs and I would
take no financial risk. I told him to go fuck
himself. He kept pestering me. I did, to my
eternal shame, help him out,' Rick says. 'I asked
around to some people who asked around to some
people who eventually gave him some.'"
Owens then asked Wilson to come along when the
exchange happened, just in case things went bad.
On the way, a SWAT team surrounded Wilson's car and arrested him.
It turns out Bryan Owens, purported trust fund
kid and environmental activist, is really Bryan
Van Brunt, Seattle Police Detective.
When Wison was interrogated, the cops were
particularly interested in asking about the ELF.
They told him, "We have hundreds of hours of
surveillance, wire, video. . . ." The Stranger
adds, "SPD surveillance logs show that police
were following the families of suspects, their
sisters and mothers, and that some family
members' homes . . . were raided and turned upside down for evidence."
Wilson was convicted of the drug crime, and also
of an unrelated offense he'd committed years
earlier -- running guns to Chiapas for the EZLN.
He was sentenced to 40 months. A handful of other
party regulars were charged with "professional gambling in the first degree."
The usual criticisms -- that these sorts of
operations waste money, only stop crimes that the
cops themselves create, and threaten our freedom
-- have already been made elsewhere. So I want to
turn instead to the question of how activists
might avoid this sort of infiltration and
entrapment. After all, it makes no difference
whether you take technical precautions like
encrypting your email if it is your
co-conspirator who is collecting the evidence against you.
With this in mind, I will sum up three recent
cases involving the use of provocateurs against
the anarchist and radical environmentalist
movements. And I'll point out some of the warning
signs that should have made people wary.
Provocateur Profile 1: "Bryan Owens" / Bryan Van Brunt
Looking at the Seattle story from the outside,
and with the benefit of hindsight, one of the
things that most stands out is the number of (if
you'll pardon the phrase) red flags that should
have signaled that something was awry. For example:
1- Money issues: Bryan's habit of throwing around
cash meant that, even though a lot of people
didn't like him and were annoyed by his "blustery
bro-dude personality," they were willing to put
up with it. He bought drinks, he took people out
to dinner, he helped people out with their rent.
And it sounds like Bryan paid for everything
concerning the party space: "Rent, paint, locks,
lumber, drywall, new plumbingit all came out of
Bryan's pocket." (At the same time he was
"insisting that it turn a profit (when everyone
in the group had been taking losses for the
parties). . . .") Bryan also covered the
expenses, including plane tickets, for a pair of
activists going to St. Paul to demonstrate
against the 2008 Republican National Convention.
2- Legal questions: Bryan had made plans to go to
the RNC himself, but was escorted off the plane
by the authorities. The reason wasn't clear: he
never really explained, and nothing more seemed
to come of the episode -- no arrest, no charges.
Of course, it turned out, he staged the incident
himself to add to his reputation.
3- Bluster: "Several people remember Bryan
bragging that he had a record and had been
arrested for political action" -- though again, the details were lacking.
4- Questions about his personal life: One friend
recalls: "When I went to the bathroom [in his
apartment], there was nothing in there. . . .
You'd expect some soap or towels or something. I
started asking how long he'd been living there, and he got all aggravated.'"
5- Responding to normal inquiries with hostility: (See #4).
6- Pressuring others toward illegal action:
"Bryan kept pushing Brady [McGarry] toward more
radical 'real militant action,' asked Brady to
teach him how to make Molotov cocktails, and
hinted that he wanted to 'make explosives' and do
some 'property damage' at Weyerhaeuser or at
CEOs' houses, Brady remembers. He wanted to talk
about the Earth Liberation Front. Brady remembers
telling Bryan to take it easy. 'It weirded me out,' Brady says."
Similarly: "Mia Brown . . . remembers Bryan as a
guy who 'always ranted about how he hates cops'
and who tried to talk an enlisted friend of hers
. . . into stealing weapons from Fort Lewis."
7- Warnings from others: Several of Rick Wilson's
friends told him something was wrong, including
one person who reported being followed. But Wilson just blew them off.
Of course, none of these, on their own or even
taken together, would prove that a person was a
government agent. (And in one way, this case is
unusual in that the infiltrator actually was an
undercover cop, not an amateur recruited for the
purpose). A person could easily exhibit some of
these traits and behaviors and not be in the employ of the police agencies.
And naturally, it's only human to assume the best
of our friends and write off uncomfortable
details as harmless eccentricities or minor flaws.
But several of these behaviors, characteristics,
or inconsistencies would be a good reason to hold
off on engaging in political work, crime, or
other high-risk activities with the person
involved. At the very least, it might make it
seem like a good idea to check up on their background.
Of course, Rick Wilson is not the only person to
pay the price for failing to take such precautions.
Provocateur Profile #2: "Anna"
Eric McDavid fell prey to a paid FBI informant
operating under the name "Anna."
(I'm working here from the legal documents,
especially trial transcripts, available at
supporteric.org. Unless otherwise noted, the
quotes in this section are from those documents.)
Anna entered the anarchist scene during the 2003
anti-FTAA protests, when at the age of 17 she
infiltrated anarchist Spokes Council meetings as
part of a class project. A fellow class-mate, a
police officer, was impressed with her work and
arranged a meeting with the FBI. As the
prosecutor in McDavid's case explained: "Over the
next year or so she attends various functions
where illegal protests are expected. The
Republican National Convention, the Democratic
National Convention, and the G-8 Summit. . . ."
Ultimately she helped to put together -- and then
break up -- a conspiracy to attack the "Institute
of Forest Genetics, cell phone towers, Nimbus Dam
and possibly the fish hatchery nearby." (Zachary Jenson's testimony.)
Anna met Eric McDavid at a Crimethinc meeting in
2004 -- ironically, at a workshop on identifying
undercover agents. She later testified, "At the
time I thought he was inconsequential. I thought
he was a college student and not of interest to
the FBI." But he formed a romantic attachment to
her, and she later used that emotional connection
to join a "cell" involving McDavid and two
others, Zachary Jenson and Lauren Weiner. Over
the next several months, Anna moved increasingly
into the leadership of the group. She organized
meetings, kept notes, covered expenses, pressed
the others onward when they had doubts, and urged
them to solidify their plans.
As the Sacramento News and Review put it:
"Documents from the investigation reviewed by
SN&R suggest that Anna provided much of the
financial support, the encouragement and the
know-how needed to turn their talk into action.
They also show that whenever the group started to
lose focus, or to have second thoughts, Anna
badgered them about being all talk and not sticking to an action plan."
Anna was crucial to forming and sustaining the
plot, pushing the others to get more serious,
move faster, and make real plans. It was Anna,
facilitated by the FBI, who provided the
instructions and materials for making a bomb. (No
actual bomb was produced.) Diane Bennett, one of
the jurors from the case, described Anna's role:
"providing all of the essential tools for the
group; the cabin, the money, the idea, the books, everything."
It was Anna who provided the bomb recipe, and the
materials, and was insistent on moving ahead with
the plan, even when others were unmotivated or
expressed reservations. As Lauren Weiner's
testified: "Anna was most concerned about keeping
on schedule. . . . She wanted to speed things
up." Or, as the prosecutor put it: "they discuss
maybe slowing up this conspiracy, maybe going
slower, so they don't have these mistakes. Anna
is pushing to get more organized."
Jenson and Weiner pled guilty to reduced charges
and cooperated with the prosecution. They got
five years each. Eric McDavid was sentenced to
twenty years. Anna was paid $65,000.
Among the many clues that McDavid missed:
1- Money issues: Anna seems to have paid for
nearly everything -- food, the car, gas, tents,
plane tickets, the cabin where they were
arrested. Over the two year period, January 2004
to January 2006, Anna's expenses totaled $35,000.
2- Vague or inconsistent explanations:
Lauren Weiner: "Anna always had -- she had a lot of $100 bills. . . ."
Q. "And she said purportedly that came from stripping, right?"
Weiner: "Yes. . . . Well, she also said that she
had money from working in a chemistry lab over
the semester while she was at school. That she
had all these jobs. . . . She was very vague about it."
3- Asking about previous arsons, and future
illegal actions: Anna testified: "I asked him if
he had any involvement with the actions [an
arson] that Ryan Lewis took over Christmas, and
he denied it. I further asked him -- I said, you
know, I know a little bit about you. I think you
might have been involved. It seems like something
you'd be interested in. He says, no, I didn't do
that. I have my own plans. . . . I asked him what
his plans were. And that was when he stated that
Ryan Lewis had made the mistake of doing the
actions too close to home, and that McDavid's
actions would take place nationwide. And I again
asked him, well, what are you planning? And he
said that he had gotten a bomb recipe for C4 from
an individual in West Virginia. And his plan was to make little C4 bombs."
4- Documenting incriminating evidence: Anna was
insistent that the group keep a notebook and
write down all of their plans. "Anna introduces
something that we'll come to know as the Burn
Book. The Burn Book, she says, is something that
the group can use to record their thoughts, their
to-do lists, their -- if they need to go buy
chemicals, they can write a list of all the
chemicals down there. . . . Why call it the Burn
Book? Because a couple of the members of the
conspiracy, specifically Lauren Weiner and
Zachary Jenson, kind of bridled at the fact that
we're writing all this stuff down. We don't want
to commit any of this to writing. Anna solves
that problem. She says, that's simple. We'll burn
it at the end. After we're done, we're going to
burn this book." (That's the prosecutor's
description, and the Burn Book became important evidence in the trial.)
5- Failure to follow agreed upon security
protocols: Weiner: "Well, it was stated by Eric
back in November that absolutely nothing would be
written down, and we all agreed with that. And
then all of a sudden everything was being written
down, and that was obviously very uncomforting to me."
Also, Anna testified: "That night there was a
discussion, and Jenson specifically mentioned
that he was very uncomfortable with the fact that
I still had my cell phone, as the rest of the
members of the group did not carry cell phones
and had no desire to carry cell phones, and felt
that cell phones were a method for law
enforcement to track them. So they began to
pressure me to get rid of my cell phone." (Anna
used her phone to provide the FBI "real time" intelligence.)
6- Pressure toward illegal action: Weiner: "She
was upset that there were no plans, and . . . I
was upset because I felt like I didn't know where
these plans were coming from."
7- Discomfort of other team-mates:
Q. "Do you remember the conversations in that car
ride? . . . Were any of them about a feeling you
had that she was leading you and the rest of the group into a trap?"
Zachary Jenson: "I do remember having a conversation about that. . . ."
Q. "Okay. And it was where you said something to
the effect of, you know, I have this feeling that
you, Anna, you're leading us into a trap, right?"
8- Discrepancies between stated intentions and
actual activity: Earlier, at a 2005 protest
against the Organization of American States, Anna
presented herself as a medic, but she had no
training and never actually served in that
function. Instead, she claimed specialized skills
as a means to gain access to planning meetings and collect information.
According to Del Papa, one of the protest
organizers, "Anna didnt seem very interested in
offering medical care and comfort to protesters.
She was more curious about the protest
organizers. . . . She started asking all of these
really specific questions about who was coming
and how many people were coming. She got really
aggressive about wanting detailed information about our plans.
At the demonstration itself, Anna then used her
position to push tactics that were not only
illegal, but contrary to existing plans and
probably counter-productive: "During the march,
Del Papa said, Anna started recruiting
high-school students to stage a sit-in to block
traffic, right in front of a large group of
Broward County sheriffs officers in riot gear.
Del Papa was sure the provocation would lead to
arrests and to the police clearing protesters from the area. . . ."
(Del Papa quotes are from the Sacramento News and
Review article, "Conspiracy of Dunces":
9- Discovering the bug: Anna testified: "On the
drive down into Auburn, there was -- a wire had
fallen out of the dash of the car, and as McDavid
was fiddling with the wire, the recording device
in the car fell out of the dash into his hand. .
. . I took the recorder out of his hand, and I
shoved it back into the dashboard. And I said,
stupid old car, just a . . . piece of shit. . . .
He let it go. He didn't question me further about
it, but he acted strange as if somewhere in his
subconscious he knew that that was a weird
occurrence, but he never pressed me about it. . .
. He had basically just found me out but didn't quite know it."
Whats remarkable about this case is that McDavid
and the others failed to challenge Anna on these
behaviors despite their collective obsession with
"security culture." The term shows up again and
again in the trial, as an explanation of why they
did certain things the way they did. They got new
email accounts, they communicated in code, they
used fake names, they went without cell phones
(except for Anna) -- and on and on. But they did
not, apparently, think carefully enough about who
they wanted to work with and what they wanted to do.
They clearly underestimated the level of
technical skill their plan required, but more
importantly, it seems they underestimated the
level of risk involved, and therefore also the
level of commitment and trust necessary. All four
conspirators were working far outside the scope
of their experience, and they don't seem to have
seriously considered the basis on which they were
working together. Anna, for instance, seems to
have been invited in because McDavid had a crush on her.
In this sense, the conspiracy failed twice. It
failed, first, because the group lacked a sound
basis for working together, could not agree on a
coherent plan, didn't have the necessary
technical proficiency to succeed, and finally --
much to Anna's frustration -- were too flakey to
follow through on their ideas. It failed, again,
because one of the four was an agent provocateur,
and two later turned state's evidence. It's worth
noting, though, that both sets of failures
occurred for many of the same reasons.
Profile #3: Brandon Darby
Similarly, David McKay and Bradley Crowder got in
over their heads with activist-turned-informant Brandon Darby.
(A lot has been written about this case, but
unless otherwise noted, I'm taking my quotes here
from Michael May's story for This American Life:
Brandon Darby was a prominent organizer,
originally in Austin. He went to New Orleans
during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, and became
a leader of Common Ground, a grassroots relief
agency that provided free food, medical aid,
legal assistance, and home repair -- while also
fighting home demolitions and police brutality.
In August 2008, Darby traveled with the "Austin
Affinity Group," including McKay and Crowder, to
St. Paul to protest against the Republican
National Convention. When they arrived, police
searched their van and seized home-made riot
shields. Darby urged the group to escalate its
tactics in response: Were not going to take
this lying down. Youve got to do something about
it. (Quoted in Cincotta, cited below.) That
evening, McKay and Crowder made some molotov
cocktails, and stashed them in the basement of
the house where they were staying.
According to McKay, when they mentioned the
molotovs to their affinity group, they were told
in no uncertain terms, "what you are doing is
ridiculous, stupid, and dangerous."
At that point they basically gave up on the idea
of using firebombs, and went to the demonstration
without them. Later, though, Darby asked McKay
what they planned to do with the bombs. "David
says he didn't want to lose face with Brandon, so
he made up a plan" about attacking a parking lot
full of police cars. Darby simultaneously told
McKay he didn't think he and Crowder were ready
for that sort of action, and goaded him toward
it, and offered to help. They agreed to meet at 2
a.m., but McKay blew it off and stopped
responding to Darby's messages. McKay was arrested in bed at 4:30 a.m.
We now know that Darby had been giving the FBI
information since at least February 2007, and had
actually been on the payroll since November that
same year. It's not clear exactly when the
collaboration began, and many people now cite
suspicions about Darby from much earlier. Darby's
own story is that he first approached the FBI
after a Palestinian activist asked him to help
raise money for Hamas and Hezbollah. That
experience led him to reflect on his own views
about militancy, after which he called the FBI
and volunteered to work as an informer. In 2008,
the FBI put him to work as part of their campaign
against the anti-RNC protests. In that capacity,
he attended planning meetings and regularly wore a wire.
It was during this period that Darby met McKay
and Crowder. The two younger activists looked up
to Darby and sought to emulate his militancy,
while he relentlessly razzed them for being "tofu
eaters" and "weaklings" -- a dynamic that led
them to feel that they had something to prove.
McKay says: "We really didn't feel very
comfortable about Brandon for a long time, but it
always came into play that we had never done
anything, anything like this, ever. . . . And
that's everything that Brandon was. . . . With
him we felt like we were legitimate."
Of course it was Darby who told the FBI about the
riot shields and, later, the molotov cocktails.
The first attempt at a trial ended in a hung jury
-- the result of McKay's entrapment defense.
Ultimately, however, both McKay and Crowder plead
guilty to firearms charges. Crowder got two
years. McKay got four. Darby was paid $12,750, plus $3,028 for expenses.
In this case, too, there were numerous clues that Darby was not to be trusted:
1- Previous behavior: The Austin Chronicle wrote:
"ask around Austin activist circles. . . .
Several local activists describe Darby as a
troubled, paranoid man with a volatile history
with women, a penchant for violent rhetoric, and
a strong authoritarian streak." (Some of the
quotes in what follows -- those not from This
American Life -- are taken from Diana Welch's
Chronicle story, "The Informant":
Similarly at Common Ground, Malik Rahim, recalls:
"At the very beginning, he was helpful, but after
[a point], he became harmful. . . . He did
everything he could to destroy St. Mary's, which
was where we were housing the majority of our
volunteers, by letting a bunch of crackheads move
in there. And he also drove a wedge between me
and Lisa Fithian and eventually caused her to
leave, too. He was doing everything you're
supposed to do as a government agent in that situation. Divide and conquer."
2- Demanding access to sensitive information he
didn't need: Fithian says that, during the RNC,
Darby had to be asked to leave meetings where the
details of actions were being worked out: "He
said he was there to do medical, but instead he
was at all the meetings." She recalls, "I
actually asked, 'What the fuck is he doing here?'
. . . I told him he needed to leave."
3- Assumption of authority: Scott Crow, one of
the founders of Common Ground told This American
Life: "He doesn't ask. A lot of time he just
assumed that nobody knew what they were doing.
And he was going to do it, even though he never
organized anything -- never organized, never organized anything. Zero."
4- Exaggerating his own knowledge and experience:
Crow also told the Chronicle: "He inserted
himself as 'co-founder'; he wanted that status,
even as people were getting written out of the
Common Ground history, people who did a lot of work organizing."
5- Taking credit for others' work: Crow, again:
"If you look at the way Brandon tells it, he did
the whole Lower 9th Ward with one hand tied
behind his back, when really there were a lot of
people who did the work, and the organizing too,
who you'll never hear about because of Brandon's monopoly on the media."
He explains: "[Darby] made sure that the media
followed him extensively and didn't interview
other people. . . . So, did he do that just
because he's crazy, or did he do that to get more
credibility for himself so that he could gather more information?"
6- The Hero Complex: Lisa Fithian summed up
Darby's attitude: "It's all about him. . . [and his need] to be the savior."
7- Bravado: Darby announced, regarding his plans
to disrupt the RNC: "Any group I go with will be successful."
8- Paranoia and tendencies toward violence: Scott
Crow: "I'm not a psychologist, but I would
definitely say that guy's paranoid. I mean, he
sleeps with guns under his pillow. This is not
something I have been told; this is something I
have seen. The guy has a cache of weapons."
9- Machismo: Fithian: "He did a lot of Wild West
shit Mister Macho Action Hero."
10- Misogyny: The Chronicle reports: "[O]ther
sources . . . spoke of a particular romantic
relationship in Darby's past that they describe
as emotionally abusive and Darby as paranoid, jealous, and possessive."
Fithian says this behavior was poisonous to the
culture at Common Ground: "He was a leader of the
organization. . . and because of that, he was
able to set some patterns in motion that I
believe led to systemic issues of sexual abuse,
sexual harassment, and violence."
11- Bullying: McKay: "We had a lot of
discussions. . . where he was criticizing us
about where we were physically. . . . He put
[Crowder] in a choke hold out of nowhere just to test what Brad would do."
12- Concerns raised by others: People who knew
Darby described him with words like:
"megalomania," "manipulative," "very brash, very
macho," "very confrontational," "violent at
times," "crazy," "a wing nut," "hero complex," and "pathological liar."
Fithian adds: "I always said at Common Ground: If
he was not a cop or an agent of the state, he was
doing their job for them, creating division and disrupting our work."
13- McKay and Crowder also should have paid
attention to their own reservations: McKay
remembers saying to Crowder: "I hope this isn't
one of those 'when keeping it real goes wrong' scenarios."
There's a broad pattern common to all of these
cases: People passing themselves off as tough,
militant, super-radical big shots manipulated,
bullied, or guilt-tripped less experienced, more
pliable people, and pushed them toward actions
far beyond anything they were prepared for, tactically or politically.
In the Darby case this dynamic advanced through
the medium of masculinity. Darby's presentation
of himself centered on an image of a tough,
decisive, bold, heroic "man of action," and he
prodded his younger, more impressionable comrades
largely by challenging their masculinity. McKay
and Crowder, then, made some dumb decisions --
not simply because they trusted the wrong person,
but because Darby's influence helped them to
wrongly conflate radicalism, militancy, and
personal commitment with an exaggerated
masculinity and the psychological need to be tough guys.
I realize that these cases may not count as
"entrapment" in the narrow legal sense, but they
certainly fit the commonsense meaning of the
word: the government manufacturing a crime for
the sake of luring unsuspecting people into a
conviction. In none of these cases would the plot
have existed, much less been enacted, without the
intervention of the provocateur.
I've chosen three cases involving the anarchist
or radical environmentalist movements, but a
similar pattern has emerged in FBI "terror" cases
targeting Muslims. In 2009, the Islamic Center of
Irvine discovered that the FBI had hired Craig
Monteilh, using the name Farouk Aziz, to
infiltrate numerous mosques in the L.A. area. His
activity led to one arrest: Ahmadullah Niazi was
charged with lying on his immigration application
to hide the fact that his brother-in-law was
Osama bin Ladens bodyguard. In this case, too,
there had been plenty of reason to worry: Two
years earlier the Council of American-Islamic
Relations was so shocked by Monteilh's big talk
about jihad that they reported him to the police
and filed a restraining order against him.
Likewise, the 2006 plot to bomb the Sears Tower
was a creature of two FBI provocateurs active in
Miami's poor, black Liberty City neighborhood.
That case went to trial three times before
producing convictions. As Thomas Cincotta wrote
in the Public Eye: "Previous juries viewed the
FBI informant posing as a member of al Qaeda as
the driving force behind the plot. Despite paying
informants over $130,000, the FBI produced no
evidence of explosives, weapons or blueprints,
only a videotape of defendants pledging an 'oath'
to al Qaeda, recorded in a warehouse wired by the
FBI." (Unless otherwise noted, details in this
section are taken from Cincotta's 2009 article,
"From Movements to Mosques, Informants Endanger
Also in 2006, the government took note of a group
of Albanians who had videotaped themselves riding
horses, shooting guns, and shouting "Allah
akbar." The FBI sent two untrained informants to
befriend the group. One of the informants,
Mahmoud Omar, quickly assumed a position of
leadership, and offered to get them weapons. When
they finally agreed, they were arrested.
More recently, in late 2010, the FBI arrested a
Somali-born teenager for trying to bomb a
Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland,
Oregon. The young man, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, had
tried to get in touch with jihadists online, but
the FBI responded instead. Over several months,
federal agents helped Mohamud concoct his plot,
providing technical advice and financial
assistance, and supplying both the (fake) bomb
and the vehicle used to transport it. As Steven
Wax, Mohamud's attorney explained: "The
government provided the money, the government
provided the transportation, the government was
involved in the meetings." (Quoted in USA Today:
The Standard Profile
In all these cases, the provocateurs shared some
common traits which, one would hope, we might
have learned to recognize by now. Way back in
1983, the Anti-Repression Resource Team and
Midwest Research Group studied the available
information on dozens of infiltration and
entrapment cases and created a standard profile of the provocateur:
"Extraordinary Agents-Provocateurs are
individuals who are agents of the state, although
not usually regular employees, who make a living
out of destroying ongoing movement organizations
by disruption and factionalizing a group to an
extraordinary degree. These individuals are
extraordinary action people, ready to deal with
guns and armed struggle, ready to participate in
direct action in all its forms and to be arrested. . . .
"One of the telltale signs of an extraordinary
agent-provocateur is the advocacy and use of
excessive violence. . . . Quite often,
extraordinary agents-provocateurs gain their
initial respect by procuring guns for a group.
Others constantly urge the groups on to violent
confrontations or armed actions which will be counterproductive.
"Extraordinary agents-provocateurs are usually
very close to one or more top leaders and make
sure they get along well with them. But they are
generally very difficult for others to get along
with. Their usual social behavior is bad to
atrocious except when leadership is around."
(Anti-Repression Resource Team and Midwest
Research Group, Protecting Ourselves from State
Repression: A Manual for Revolutionary Activists,
1983. This document is not available online; sorry.)
In addition to these characteristics, and those
mentioned earlier in the case studies, we might
also note that in most of these cases the
militancy is accompanied by vague or inconsistent politics:
"Very often their political lines change
abruptly, without apparent reason or explanation.
. . . Along with the political disruptiveness is
a basic lack of solid political growth. When long
experience with a particular issue does not lead
to qualitatively better political understanding
of the issue, there are grounds for security
suspicions. Extraordinary agents-provocateurs are
usually action-oriented and press ahead with more
daring and more illegal activities without any
increase in their political understanding of an
issue. . . . [I]nformers often push their
interests far beyond their political capacity.
Quite often informers are at events that they
cannot understand or explain politically."
Proceed with Caution
Here a word of caution is in order. It is totally
conceivable, maybe even likely, that a person
could fit this sort of pattern and not be a government agent.
There is a whole range of other possible
explanations: He could be employed by a private
agency. He could be sabotaging movement work for
personal or ideological reasons. He could be
well-meaning, but misguided, mentally ill, or
merely very foolish. There is also the
possibility that the state is not employing him,
but has made a calculated decision to leave him
alone while his behavior wrecks havoc in the
movement. Or the cops might be biding their time,
monitoring him while they build as big a case as they can.
Usually, all we have to judge by is the actor's
behavior, and so we just don't know what the full
story is. It is important, therefore, not to jump
to conclusions -- and especially, not to jump to
conclusions publicly. There is entirely too much
mud-slinging, rumor-mongering, and
trial-by-flame-war in the anarchist movement
already. We can't afford to make it worse with
premature denunciations or allegations we can't substantiate.
For one thing, it is a favorite trick of police
agencies to make false allegations and spread
such rumors themselves in order to neutralize
leaders, sow suspicion, and generate rifts in the
movement. "Snitch-jacketing" they call it.
For another thing, there is a real danger that by
overstating the conclusion, one can inadvertently
overshadow the real concerns that exist. If the
allegation is "this guy's a fed," then the
question becomes "Is he a fed?" If the evidence
doesn't conclusively show that he is, the whole
affair may be written off as false, even if there
are genuine reasons to worry.
The answer, then, is to concentrate on the
demonstrable evidence, rather than peddling
conjecture. In practical terms, that means
addressing the person's problematic behavior
rather than leveling accusations about their intent.
The point that really deserves attention is that,
whether or not people matching this description
are provocateurs, their provocateur-like behavior
ought to be enough to discredit them.
The people entrapped in these recent cases got
into trouble partly by trusting the wrong people,
but also by needing too much to impress them,
trying too hard to please them. ("I was always
trying to impress her," Lauren Weiner testified.)
But most of all, I think the victims here failed
to trust their own better judgment.
The conclusions ought to be commonsensical: Know
the people you do political work with. The more
risky the work, the better you need to know them.
Be realistic about your skills, experience,
understanding, and limitations -- and those of
the people you work with. Use your own judgment
in deciding what sort of work to pursue, what
tactics to adopt, and the level of risk to
accept. Don't let yourself be bullied,
guilt-tripped, or baited into anything that seems
to you like a bad idea. And don't shrug it off if something seems wrong.
Of course, that still may not be enough to keep
you out of jail. But it seems to me like the
least we can ask of the people we work with --
whether we're doing anything illegal, or not.
Kristian Williams is the author of Our Enemies in
Blue: Police and Power in America and American
Methods: Torture and the Logic of Domination (both from South End Press).
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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