The FBI snooped on Black Lives Matter protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, newly released files suggest. It went beyond online surveillance and was justified by claims that a direct action protest was planned by known troublemakers.
Heavily-redacted FBI documents published by the Intercept on Monday show that agents alerted Monsanto, the agrochemicals and genetic engineering giant, to a protest planned outside the firm’s headquarters in the St. Louis suburb of Creve Coeur during the 2014 Thanksgiving holiday.
The documents were only released after the civil rights groups Color of Change and the Center for Constitutional Rights went to court to obtain a freedom Freedom of Information Act order. The groups filed a second case for the disclosure of a so-called “Race Paper” from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which allegedly refers to the radicalization of black citizens. The existence of the Race Paper was revealed in the first set of documents. Last November, the same two groups forced the admission that the FBI and DHS feared the “threat of black supremacist extremists attempting to violently co-opt” the 2016 Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
Among the documents released on Monday, an “assessment,” dated November 21, 2014, said the bureau had intelligence that “over 100 protesters” would march from the complex to Ferguson in protest of a grand jury’s decision not to prosecute white police officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, a black man.
Wilson claimed Brown tried to seize his service pistol and charged at him, forcing him to shoot. But Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson testified that the youth raised his hands and begged Wilson not to shoot him, giving rise to the popular BLM slogan “hands up, don’t shoot.”
Agents wrote: “There has been $10,000 raised for bond money and $6,000 for direct action devices,” although the nature of such gear was unknown. “It is unknown if these protesters are planning to get arrested at Monsanto or Ferguson” the document says.
However, it adds that an individual, whose name was redacted, “is believed to have been arrested during a previous protest.” Monsanto and other big firms closed their offices on November 24 after rioting broke out in the city over the grand jury verdict.
A November 25 document, almost entirely blanked out, details how agents from the FBI’s St. Louis field office kept tabs on vehicles registered to other activists outside a home in the city.
Former FBI agent Michael German, now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security program, told the Intercept that the revelations belied the FBI’s claim that it does not police ideology, only those resorting violent action.
“This is clearly just tracking First Amendment activity and keeping this activity in an intelligence database,” German said. “Even if you made the argument that it is about a propensity for violence, why isn’t there a discussion of that propensity? Instead they are discussing bond money, not detailing a criminal predicate or even a possibility of violence.”
“The FBI does not engage in surveillance of individuals exercising their First Amendment rights,” FBI St Louis spokeswoman Rebecca Wu told the Intercept. However, the bureau has a long history of political interventions, including its involvement in the McCarthyite anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s and the COINTELPRO operations to infiltrate and disrupt activist groups, including the Black Panther Party, from the 1950s to the 1970s.
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