If this isn’t a clear sign that dissent is considered a criminal act by the government, I don’t know what is: new documents released thanks to the Freedom of Information Act requests provide conclusive proof that the FBI heavily monitored the Occupy Wall Street movement under suspicion of terrorism. And if that’s not bad enough, the FBI teamed with banks and financial corporations to keep tabs on the group.
Evidently, the FBI’s concern over Occupy Wall Street mounted before the movement itself began. As the files reflect, the FBI monitored even the initial rumblings of the protests before a single demonstration occurred. The FBI then disseminated this information to not only law enforcement agencies across the country — one document from Memphis shows that Occupy had been equivocated with the Aryan Nation as a potentially dangerous group that needed to be watched –- but to the banks themselves on what they were to expect.
“These documents show that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are treating protests against the corporate and banking structure of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a representative of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund who initially requested the documents. In an interview with Democracy Now, she added, “Throughout the materials, there is repeated evidence of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, American intelligence agencies really worked as a private intelligence arm for corporations, for Wall Street, for the banks, for the very entities that people were rising up to protest against.”
Moreover, the paperwork illustrates how easily anyone can be labeled a terrorist by government agencies. The FBI released a statement saying it honored First Amendment rights, but that it also had a responsibility to monitor potential sources of violence. This might come as news to Occupiers who have demonstrated non-violence throughout their movement. In fact, when there has been violence at actions, it tends to come from law enforcement officials firing rubber bullets and teargas at demonstrators.
The FBI’s own findings detail that they believe Occupy protesters to be peaceful, but that they continued to spy out of fear that an unaffiliated “lone offender” would use Occupy demonstrations to commit acts of violence. Of course, by that logic, a “lone offender” could show up/join the ranks of any social group. It also begs the question why an innocent group that is not thought to collaborate with potential violent agitators would need to be monitored if no such conversations were occurring.
Despite the FBI failing to find threats of violence, the investigation has nonetheless continued. “They’re using their counterterrorism resources and counterterrorism authorities,” said Verheyden-Hilliard. “They are defining the movement as domestic terrorism and potentially criminal in nature.”
While these new papers do not include much information about how surveillance was conducted, it has been well documented elsewhere that undercover agents are a regular presence at Occupy events.
Although requests were filed many months ago, much like a celebrity couple announces its divorce over a holiday weekend to avoid intense media coverage, the FBI released its documents the day before the Christmas weekend, probably hoping to get lost in the holiday shuffle.
By its own admission, the FBI only released 99 of the 387 documents itself deemed “relevant” to the Freedom of Information Act request. The Partnership for Civil Justice says it intends to file an appeal for the remaining documents. Of the documents the group did receive, even those are highly redacted. Considering that the current documents are alarming already, it is a wonder what information is being concealed.
Meanwhile, I’m left with three questions:
- Do this country’s citizens really have First Amendment rights if they are viewed as terrorists for utilizing them?
- Should the United States grant the FBI limitless surveillance powers if this is how they choose to exercise those unprecedented privileges?
- Considering it colluded with the banks to thwart the protesters, does the government really work for the benefit of the people or the corporations?
I’ll stop there, because even posing those questions is probably enough to have me labeled a potential terrorist.
Photo Credit: PaulSteinJC