[Ppnews] For Anarchist, Details of Life as F.B.I. Target

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon May 30 10:37:02 EDT 2011


May 28, 2011


For Anarchist, Details of Life as F.B.I. Target

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/29/us/29surveillance.html?_r=3&hp=&pagewanted=print


By 
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/m/colin_moynihan/index.html?inline=nyt-per>COLIN 
MOYNIHAN and 
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/scott_shane/index.html?inline=nyt-per>SCOTT 
SHANE

AUSTIN, Tex. ­ A fat sheaf of 
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/f/federal_bureau_of_investigation/index.html?inline=nyt-org>F.B.I. 
reports meticulously details the surveillance 
that counterterrorism agents directed at the 
one-story house in East Austin. For at least 
three years, they traced the license plates of 
cars parked out front, recorded the comings and 
goings of residents and guests and, in one case, 
speculated about a suspicious flat object spread out across the driveway.

“The content could not be determined from the 
street,” an agent observing from his car reported 
one day in 2005. “It had a large number of 
multi-colored blocks, with figures and/or 
lettering,” the report said, and “may be a sign 
that is to be used in an upcoming protest.”

Actually, the item in question was more mundane.

“It was a quilt,” said Scott Crow, marveling over 
the papers at the dining table of his ramshackle 
home, where he lives with his wife, a housemate 
and a backyard menagerie that includes two goats, 
a dozen chickens and a turkey. “For a kids’ after-school program.”

Mr. Crow, 44, a self-described anarchist and 
veteran organizer of anticorporate 
demonstrations, is among dozens of political 
activists across the country known to have come 
under scrutiny from the F.B.I.’s increased 
counterterrorism operations since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Other targets of bureau surveillance, which has 
been criticized by civil liberties groups and 
mildly faulted by the Justice Department’s 
inspector general, have included antiwar 
activists in Pittsburgh, animal rights advocates 
in Virginia and liberal Roman Catholics in 
Nebraska. When such investigations produce no 
criminal charges, their methods rarely come to light publicly.

But Mr. Crow, a lanky Texas native who works at a 
recycling center, is one of several Austin 
activists who asked the F.B.I. for their files, 
citing the Freedom of Information Act. The 440 
heavily-redacted pages he received, many bearing 
the rubric “Domestic Terrorism,” provide a 
revealing window on the efforts of the bureau, 
backed by other federal, state and local police 
agencies, to keep an eye on people it deems dangerous.

In the case of Mr. Crow, who has been arrested a 
dozen times during demonstrations but has never 
been convicted of anything more serious than 
trespassing, the bureau wielded an impressive 
array of tools, the documents show.

The agents watched from their cars for hours at a 
time ­ Mr. Crow recalls one regular as “a fat guy 
in an S.U.V. with the engine running and the 
air-conditioning on” ­ and watched gatherings at 
a bookstore and cafe. For round-the-clock 
coverage, they attached a video camera to the 
phone pole across from his house on New York Avenue.

They tracked Mr. Crow’s phone calls and e-mails 
and combed through his trash, identifying his 
bank and mortgage companies, which appear to have 
been served with subpoenas. They visited gun 
stores where he shopped for a rifle, noting dryly 
in one document that a 
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/v/veganism/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier>vegan 
animal rights advocate like Mr. Crow made an 
unlikely hunter. (He says the weapon was for 
self-defense in a marginal neighborhood.)

They asked the Internal Revenue Service to 
examine his tax returns, but backed off after an 
I.R.S. employee suggested that Mr. Crow’s modest 
earnings would not impress a jury even if his 
returns were flawed. (He earns $32,000 a year at 
Ecology Action of Texas, he said.)

They infiltrated political meetings with 
undercover police officers and informers. Mr. 
Crow counts five supposed fellow activists who were reporting to the F.B.I.

Mr. Crow seems alternately astonished, angered 
and flattered by the government’s attention. 
“I’ve had times of intense paranoia,” he said, 
especially when he discovered that some trusted allies were actually spies.

“But first, it makes me laugh,” he said. “It’s 
just a big farce that the government’s created 
such paper tigers. Al Qaeda and real terrorists 
are hard to find. We’re easy to find. It’s 
outrageous that they would spend so much money 
surveilling civil activists, and anarchists in 
particular, and equating our actions with Al Qaeda.”

The investigation of political activists is an 
old story for the F.B.I., most infamously in the 
Cointel program, which scrutinized and sometimes 
harassed civil rights and antiwar advocates from 
the 1950s to the 1970s. Such activities were 
reined in after they were exposed by the Senate’s 
Church Committee, and F.B.I. surveillance has 
been governed by an evolving set of guidelines 
set by attorneys general since 1976.

But the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 
demonstrated the lethal danger of domestic 
terrorism, and after the Sept. 11 attacks, the 
F.B.I. vowed never again to overlook terrorists 
hiding in plain sight. The Qaeda sleeper cells 
many Americans feared, though, turned out to be rare or nonexistent.

The result, said Michael German, a former F.B.I. 
agent now at the American Civil Liberties Union, 
has been a zeal to investigate political 
activists who pose no realistic threat of terrorism.

“You have a bunch of guys and women all over the 
country sent out to find terrorism. Fortunately, 
there isn’t a lot of terrorism in many 
communities,” Mr. German said. “So they end up 
pursuing people who are critical of the government.”

Complaints from the A.C.L.U. prompted the Justice 
Department’s inspector general to assess the 
F.B.I.’s forays into domestic surveillance. The 
resulting report last September absolved the 
bureau of investigating dissenters based purely 
on their expression of political views. But the 
inspector general also found skimpy justification 
for some investigations, uncertainty about 
whether any federal crime was even plausible in 
others and a mislabeling of nonviolent civil disobedience as “terrorism.”

Asked about the surveillance of Mr. Crow, an 
F.B.I. spokesman, Paul E. Bresson, said it would 
be “inappropriate” to discuss an individual case. 
But he said that investigations are conducted 
only after the bureau receives information about possible crimes.

“We do not open investigations based on 
individuals who exercise the rights afforded to 
them under the First Amendment,” Mr. Bresson 
said. “In fact, the Department of Justice and the 
bureau’s own guidelines for conducting domestic 
operations strictly forbid such actions.”

It is not hard to understand why Mr. Crow 
attracted the bureau’s attention. He has 
deliberately confronted skinheads and Ku Klux 
Klan members at their gatherings, relishing the 
resulting scuffles. He claims to have forced 
corporate executives to move with noisy nighttime protests.

He says he took particular pleasure in a 2003 
demonstration for Greenpeace in which activists 
stormed the headquarters of ExxonMobil in Irving, 
Tex., to protest its environmental record. 
Dressed in tiger outfits, protesters carried 
banners to the roof of the company’s offices, 
while others wearing business suits arrived in 
chauffeured Jaguars, forcing frustrated police 
officers to sort real executives from faux ones.

“It was super fun,” said Mr. Crow, one of the 
suits, who escaped while 36 other protesters were 
arrested. “They had ignored us and ignored us. 
But that one got their attention.”

It got the attention of the F.B.I. as well, 
evidently, leading to the three-year 
investigation that focused specifically on Mr. 
Crow. The surveillance documents show that he 
also turned up in several other investigations of 
activism in Texas and beyond, from 2001 to at least 2008.

For an aficionado of civil disobedience, Mr. Crow 
comes across as more amiable than combative. He 
dropped out of college, toured with an 
electronic-rock band and ran a successful Dallas 
antiques business while dabbling in animal rights 
advocacy. In 2001, captivated by the philosophy 
of anarchism, he sold his share of the business 
and decided to become a full-time activist.

Since then, he has led a half-dozen groups and 
run an annual training camp for protesters. (The 
camps invariably attracted police infiltrators 
who were often not hard to spot. “We had a rule,” 
he said. “If you were burly, you didn’t belong.”) 
He also helped to found Common Ground Relief, a 
network of nonprofit organizations created in New 
Orleans after 
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/h/hurricane_katrina/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier>Hurricane 
Katrina.

Anarchism was the catchword for an international 
terrorist movement at the turn of the 20th 
century. But Mr. Crow, whose e-mail address 
contains the phrase “quixotic dreaming,” 
describes anarchism as a kind of locally oriented 
self-help movement, a variety of “social libertarianism.”

“I don’t like the state,” he said. “I don’t want 
to overthrow it, but I want to create alternatives to it.”

This kind of talk appears to have baffled some of 
the agents assigned to watch him, whose reports 
to F.B.I. bosses occasionally seem petulant. One 
agent calls “nonviolent direct action,” a phrase 
in activists’ materials, “an oxymoron.” Another 
agent comments, oddly, on Mr. Crow and his wife, 
Ann Harkness, who have been together for 24 
years, writing that “outwardly they did not 
appear to look right for each other.” At a 
training session, “most attendees dressed like hippies.”

Such comments stand out amid detailed accounts of 
the banal: mail in the recycling bin included “a 
number of catalogs from retail outlets such as 
Neiman Marcus, Ann Taylor and Pottery Barn.”

Mr. Crow said he hoped the airing of such F.B.I. 
busywork might deter further efforts to keep 
watch over him. The last documents he has seen 
mentioning him date from 2008. But the Freedom of 
Information Act exempts from disclosure any 
investigations that are still open.

“I still occasionally see people sitting in cars 
across the street,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve given up.”




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