Stormtroopin'

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In the early morning hours there’s a din in the air; mayhem’s on the loose. Stormtroopers comin’, and you better be prepared. Got no time to choose….

Comin’ up that street, jackboots steppin’ high. Got to make a stand. Looking in your windows and listen to your phone. Keep a gun in your hand….

Two hundred down, and it’s comin’ ’round again. Got no second choice. Where’s the justice and where’s that law. Raise your healthy voice…. Get ready. Stormtroopers comin’….

~ Ted Nugent

The recently concluded Republican National Convention in St. Paul served as the grand coming-out party for the Homeland Security State.

Its enforcers, fully panoplied in the military regalia that is rapidly becoming standard police attire, could be seen either strutting through the streets hungry to conduct a beat-down or marching to military cadences. Armored vehicles prowled the streets, while military helicopters rattled overhead. Several journalists, including Amy Goodman and two associates from the independent Democracy Now! media enterprise, were arrested and assaulted by police while covering protest marches.

Large sections of Minneapolis/St. Paul, a placid Midwestern American community, were made to resemble Baghdad under military occupation. As in Baghdad, homes in the Twin Cities were subjected to “pre-emptive” military raids on the eve of the Republican Convention. Beginning the night of Friday, August 29, multi-jurisdictional paramilitary police units armed with automatic weapons stormed residences where left-wing activists were billeted in anticipation of protest demonstrations.

More than one hundred people were handcuffed and questioned during those raids, many of them forced to lie face-down on the ground while officers searched for evidence of various purported plots to disrupt and “terrorize” the convention. According to Glenn Greenwald, a civil libertarian commentator who was on-site immediately after the raids, at least some of the police who conducted the raids couldn’t resist tormenting helpless detainees with jocular talk about summary executions.

In total more than 800 people were arrested during convention-related demonstrations. The most significant of those arrests involved eight people detained during the pre-convention raids who were eventually charged with “conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism” under Minnesota’s version of the PATRIOT (sic) Act. Where mere "conspiracy to riot" is a misdemeanor, re-classifying it as an act of terrorism leaves the defendants facing the prospect of seven years in prison.

This is the first time American citizens have been accused, in a civilian court, of committing a crime “in furtherance” of terrorism. It will not be the last.

Some elements of the protest “community” that materialized in St. Paul were incontestably seeking a confrontation with the police as a form of ideological street theater.

While some consider this approach to be useless at best, it’s not that different in principle from tactics perfected by Samuel Adams and like-minded patriots of our founding period.

Other street activists in the Twin Cities expressed their contempt for the criminal violence of the State by deliberately impeding peaceful commerce and destroying private property, which is neither useful nor justified.

But it is the prosecution of the eight "terrorist" suspects, and the long-term surveillance project involving the RNC Welcoming Committee (RNCWC), that will have the most important tangible consequences. The methods of infiltration, surveillance, and apprehension used against those activists will provide a model for future crackdowns against any organized dissent.

Accounts of the arrests in the corporatist press retailed prosecution claims that the activists planned a campaign of mayhem and violence that would have included attacks on public transportation and attempts to kidnap Republican delegates.

The “evidence” seized during the raids consists of unremarkable construction materials — cans of paint, rope, roofing nails — that could be used in various disruptive ways. The search warrant application also permitted police to confiscate “computer systems” and “media in whatever form,” in order to obtain detailed information about the activities of the RNCWC, which is described as an “organized criminal enterprise.”

That document also claims that “possession of the property above described constitutes a crime.” Thus someone who owned a computer or a single can of paint could be arrested, indicted, and perhaps convicted of terrorism charges in absence of a single documented criminal act if the prosecution can supply a convincing narrative.

And in this case, as with so many others, the job of supply the appropriate narrative has been given to “confidential informants,” two of whom (along with an “undercover investigator”) are cited copiously in the warrant application and the criminal complaint. The “corroboration” offered for the most lurid and disturbing charges — those dealing with actual violence and property destruction — consists entirely of the accounts provided by paid informants.

“Of the stuff that was seized by the police, about ninety percent is just common household items that we’re told were going to be used for criminal acts,” commented Bruce Nestor, a defense attorney for the detainees, in a telephone interview with Pro Libertate. “In fact, there is nothing here that in itself constitutes evidence of a crime or a plot to commit a crime. [The prosecution] wants us to view these items in light of the story being told by the paid informants, and the presumed political beliefs of the detainees.”

Police who conducted the pre-convention raids claim to have found 37 “caltrops” — spikes that are scattered on a motorway to disable cars during a police pursuit. What was actually found was not a supply of standard-issue caltrops, but roofing nails that had supposedly been “weaponized.”

“To be fair, roofing nails could be used as caltrops, but they could also be used as roofing nails,” Nestor pointed out when I asked him about that reported discovery. “Some police experts insist that these particular roofing nails had been modified or bundled together in some way that suggests the intention to use them to disrupt traffic. But this is suggestive, once again, largely because of the stories told by the informants. Otherwise you’ve got common roofing nails” — possession of which is evidence only of a plot to repair one’s roof.

Similar considerations apply in evaluating the claim that police discovered “weaponized urine” (no, I’m not kidding) during the pre-convention raids. What the police, citing breathless reports from their confidential informants, triumphantly described as an attempt to create a very crude bio-chem anti-personnel weapon was described by activists as a rudimentary chamber pot.

Given the frequency with which well-publicized “international terrorist plots” prove to be media spectacles choreographed by the FBI through paid informant/provocateurs, it’s reasonable to suspect that the case against RNCWC activists may involve a domestic application of the same approach.

Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who was present in St. Paul to speak to peace activists at a St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, believes that “what violence there was [during protests] bore the earmarks of provocation by the likes of Sheriff Fletcher and his Homeland Security, FBI, and — according to one well-sourced report — Blackwater buddies.”

McGovern describes one instance in which “a man who looked like a protester — dark clothes, backpack, a bit disheveled” — was identified as one of the police officers who had carried out the Friday night raid against the RNCWC. “The young protesters asked the man, and two associates, to leave [the protest], at which point the three hustled into a nearby unmarked sedan,” writes McGovern. “The license plate, observed by a Pioneer Press reporter, traced back to the detective unit of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office….”

It’s worth remembering that the same time-honored tactic was on display during the August 2007 Security and Prosperity Partnership summit in Montebello, Quebec almost exactly a year earlier. In an incident captured on video, a group of ineptly disguised police infiltrators, armed with rocks and reeking of foul intentions, were caught trying to infiltrate and radicalize a peaceful protest march.

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