Posted 1 year ago on May 26, 2012, 5:58 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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Has the FBI Launched a War of Entrapment Against the Occupy Movement?
Saturday, 26 May 2012 11:01 By Arun Gupta, AlterNet | News Analysis
Is the government unleashing the same methods of entrapment against OWS that it has used against left movements and Muslim-Americans?
With the high-profile arrest of activists on terrorism charges in Cleveland on May Day and in Chicago during the NATO summit there, evidence is mounting that the FBI is unleashing the same methods of entrapment against the Occupy Wall Street movement that it has used against left movements and Muslim-Americans for the last decade.
In Cleveland the FBI announced on May 1 that “five self-proclaimed anarchists conspired to develop multiple terror plots designed to negatively impact the greater Cleveland metropolitan area.” The FBI claimed the five were nabbed as they attempted to blow up a bridge the night before using “inoperable” explosives supplied to them by an undercover FBI employee.
Then on May 19, the day before thousands marched peacefully in Chicago to protest NATO-led wars, the Illinois State Attorney hit three men with charges of terrorism for allegedly plotting to use “destructive devices” against targets ranging from Chicago police stations to the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Defense attorneys for the Chicago activists claim their clients, like the Cleveland activists, were provided with supplies for making Molotov cocktails by undercover agents in an operation that included the participation of the FBI and Secret Service. This was followed up on May 20 by the arrest of two other men on terrorism charges in Chicago for statements they made, which critics say amount to thought crimes. The Chicago cases are also reportedly the first time the state of Illinois is charging individuals under its post-September 11 terrorism law.
To hear FBI officials describe it, “Law enforcement took swift, collaborative action…to eliminate the risk of violence and protect the public.” To many observers, however, the government itself is the overarching threat, systematically repressing peaceful dissent. Will Potter, who analyzes FBI entrapment plots in his book Green is the New Red, says the two incidents are “a reflection of an ongoing pattern of behavior from the FBI of singling out political activists and having a direct influence in creating so-called terrorist plots for the purpose of proclaiming a victory in the war on terrorism.” Potter claims, “There have been many other cases like these in which the FBI had a role in manufacturing the plot itself. We’ve seen this time and again with animal rights activists, environmental activists and the anarchist movement.”
Simply put, the Cleveland and Chicago cases appear to be instances of the federal government foiling its own terror plots. Two days before the Cleveland plot was supposedly thwarted, David Shipler, author of Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America, presciently described in the New York Times the mechanics of the FBI trap about to be sprung. Shipler wrote that FBI terror stings typically begin by targeting “suspects for pure speech” such as comments, emails and “angry postings” on the Internet. The suspects are then “woo[ed] into relationships with informers, who are often convicted felons working in exchange for leniency, or with FBI agents” working undercover. Some suspects are “incompetent and adrift, like hapless wannabes looking for a cause that the informer or undercover agent skillfully helps them find.” Noting that the FBI is “cultivating potential terrorists,” Shipler asked, “would the culprits commit violence on their own?”
That’s what the FBI claims – that it thwarted the deadly plans of Brandon Baxter, 20; Anthony Hayne, 35; Joshua Stafford, 23; Connor Stevens, 20; and Douglas Wright, 26. The plot allegedly began last fall after Doug Wright discussed deploying smoke bombs as a decoy while individuals toppled bank signs from skyscrapers in downtown Cleveland, and evolved with FBI planning into using “C4 plastic explosive devices” to demolish a bridge connecting the Ohio communities of Brecksville and Sagamore Hills.
Stephen Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Cleveland office, claimed during the May 1 press conference “that at no time during the course of the investigation was the public ever in danger.” So if the public was never in danger, was there ever a threat?
To get to the bottom of the story I traveled to Cleveland shortly after the arrests and interviewed about 20 friends and family members of the "Cleveland 5," as supporters are calling them. They describe a group of naïve, vulnerable and even desperate individuals that the FBI preyed on. A government informant provided the five with jobs, money, a place to live, a friendly ear, beer, pot, the prescription stimulant Adderall, and most significant, the ideas and means to carry out a plot conceived by the Bureau itself.
The Lost Boys
Friends describe the five – everyone calls them boys or kids – as “quasi-hobos” and on the losing end of society. Lea Tolls, a 46-year-old mother and self-described “Occu-mom,” says, “Except for Connor [Stevens] they were destitute. They are angry, some have mental illnesses, and there is alcoholism and abuse in their families.” Kaiser, a Cleveland occupier, told me that Doug Wright, the alleged ringleader, was “like a big brother to me. He ran away from his parents when he was 12.” Everyone invariably mentioned Wright was a train hopper, an explanation that accounts for his mangled nose, missing teeth and abrasive manner. Ben Shapiro, 26, an environmental organizer who was active with Occupy Cleveland last fall, said, “Doug was poor. He was angry, had a hard time dealing with people and was short-tempered.” Nonetheless, numerous youth said Wright was protective of and cared about them and was a hard worker. Zachy, a lanky 21-year-old who hung out with the five, says, “Doug actually did shit. He was running logistics at the Occupy camp. He was the one that knew how to tie knots and put tarps on the tents.”
The story is the same for the others: lost souls wanting to help others. Most Cleveland Occupiers were wary of Anthony Hayne, the oldest of the accused, labeling him a “con man,” “swindler” and “schemer.” Lea Tolls defended him, stating, “Tony was an addict, and we treated him accordingly.” Others added that Hayne's mother died a week before Occupy Cleveland began. Jonnie Peskar, 22, a member of Occupy Cleveland, says one night another defendant, Brandon Baxter, told him his life story, “He grew up in violence. He and his dad would fist fight. Brandon talked about how he was traumatized growing up.”
Gloria, a friend of Brandon Baxter's, called him “an absolute joy to be around. He wants to help everyone he comes in contact with.” But he also suffered from “horrible depression” and tried to kill himself in February by jumping off a bridge before being talked down by cops, she claimed. “He spent weeks in the hospital from the suicide attempt.” As for Joshua Stafford, who is known as Skelly, his mother anonymously told the media of a troubled life, saying he had been “in and out of hospitals, prisons, jails. He's just been a troubled soul since he's been born.”
Joshua Stafford and Brandon Baxter are also described as highly impressionable. Tolls says Stafford, “would have done anything anyone told him to, just to have friends.” Peskar says Brandon Baxter admitted to him, “‘I’m easily brainwashed because I was pulled into being a Neo-Nazi.’ Brandon was in a very confused state. He always contradicted himself. He didn’t know what he wanted.” Of the five, only Brandon Baxter and Connor Stevens appear to be in contact with their families. Curious as to how Stevens was caught up in the trap, I sat down with his family in their modest ranch house in the suburbs of Cleveland to hear of a thoughtful and passionate young man trying to surmount life’s obstacles on the path to adulthood. Stevens' mother Gail describes her son as “extremely intelligent" although "school didn’t engage him.” Connor Stevens dropped out his junior year. In his sophomore year, Stevens and some friends founded a social justice group called “Fighters for Freedom” that was quickly shut down by the school administration. He was also elected class president, but was not allowed to serve because of a low grade point average. When he was 16 he told his family he was gay, which his siblings said neither surprised nor fazed them.
Gail also spoke of family troubles that affected Connor and her other children deeply – her mother and sister passing away in quick succession, followed less than a year later by her husband James running afoul of the law in 2001, which resulted in more than two years in prison for him and the dissolution of their marriage. Gail went from a stay-at-home mom to the sole breadwinner and had to handle the stress of moving her family into her father’s house. Occupy gave Connor Stevens a sense of belonging. Gail says, “I was excited for him. There was something he could actually be part of in Cleveland.” In early 2012 he began to say “he wanted to be a pastor. He felt he was being called.” She read a letter Stevens sent her from the Corrections Corporation of America facility near Youngstown, Ohio, where he is being held. He wrote:
“I am in good spirits and feel at the top of my game physically, mentally, spiritually. … I have great faith and do not underestimate the power of prayers. The bible I’m reading, the New American, in which I’ve been focusing on the Old Testament, speaks constantly of the Lord’s uplifting the oppressed, siding with the poor, the downtrodden, the widows and the orphans. I believe God is on our side. The scripture you quoted from Jeremiah is very fitting. And just before I came down to our last visitation … I read Psalms 27:1. This is my rock, this passage. It conveys everything.”