Recent Posts

Provocateur Found at RNC

by Grace Kelly on January 10, 2009 · 10 comments

Eventually it had to come out in the trials for alleged crimes at the Republican National Convention(RNC) that the so called “anarchists” of the RNC Welcoming Committee were being influenced by provocateurs. Basically the worst that happened at the RNC was broken windows, slashed tires and one dropped sandbag. However, the worst alleged planned incident that was an alleged fire bombing by three people. The stories that are now coming out point to the leader of that group as Brandon Darby, paid by the FBI. Brandon had the strongest political activist background. Brandon was not a person just sitting in a meeting taking notes, he was a person teaching people in martial arts how to fight the police. Brandon was a leader! Informants don’t lead, provocateurs lead. Yet this provocateur is getting off scot-free and even being called a hero by the Powerline Republican blog. Brandon suckered two naive young people into doing acts that will put them in jail for a long time. David McKay and Bradley Crowder, from Austin, Texas are scheduled to go on trial in Minnesota on Jan. 26, and are facing a possible 30 years in jail if convicted on all counts.

Democracy Now has the story:

LISA FITHIAN: I have no question that he’s a provocateur. I mean, I’ve worked with Brandon for a long time, and everywhere that Brandon has worked, there has been discord, tension, aggression. We know that-you know, the interesting thing is that now that we know for sure, more and more stories are starting to emerge about what Brandon has asked people to do in the past. So the more I find about these young men, as well, it’s clear to me that-

AMY GOODMAN: Like what?

LISA FITHIAN: Well, that, I mean, they are two young men from Midland, Texas who are angry at our government, who wanted to learn about organizing, and they wanted to make a difference in this world. They are not that experienced, and they were very impressionable. And when you have somebody like Brandon, who has some national notoriety, he’s-they were star-struck. And again, based on the documents-and I know Carly will talk more about this-these documents make it very clear that he was leading these young men down a road that unfortunately got them into a situation that they are now facing very serious consequences, years in prison, as a result of the work of Brandon Darby.

And here is testimony from even further in Brandon Darby’s past in the organization, Common Ground:

MALIK RAHIM: And I knew from the very beginning that Homeland Security had infiltrated us. I knew that when I realized that to be critical of FEMA response as it related to Katrina, on the aftermath of Katrina, we took upon the wrath of Homeland Security. I was looking at it coming from many different ways. But God knows I didn’t think it would be from Brandon. And that part of it has literally-it has literally broken my heart, again, you know, that this has happened.

I know that there’s been many people that left from Common Ground in frustration, and many of it was due in part because of Brandon. Many young ladies, many individuals that he literally ran off, you know? It just tackles me. I couldn’t read the whole letter.

But let me be clearer than just one Brandon Darby provocateur. The whole RNC Welcoming Committee was wrongfully led by the idea that violence was an appropriate response to violence, instead of living by Martin Luther King’s peace pledge as I reported here and here. Let’s put as plainly as possible, the RNC Welcoming Committee were tools that the police used to justify $50 million in expenditures, to justify pre-emptive arrests (no cause detainments) and to justify all of the war zone tactics used in St Paul during the RNC. For a whole week our civil rights were gone in St Paul.

How do we know about provocateurs? We know because the peace movement has a very long documented history of provocateurs since the 1950′s. We know because there were video cameras totally blanketing St Paul and the highest number of cops to citizens ever and yet certain key incidents go without charges. With high police informant infiltration, with the highest satellite-drone-video camera coverage and high number of every layer of police, the lack of arrests for certain incidents can only be because provocateurs performed those key incidents of violence.

Peace and progressive movements have a long tradition here. Local neighborhood peace groups have meeting since before the Iraq War. In every peace and progressive movement, the dissenting voice is respected, even revered. I was there one day when a person disrespected troops which every other person in the room disagreed with, yet that person was allowed to stay and speak. We even had pro-war advocates speak. Yet when I brought the idea of provocateurs and peace pledges to the RNC Welcoming Committee meetings, I was kicked out – twice!  I have not even been kicked out of Republican conventions! Hmmm, so what could an old lady say that was so threatening that they had to remove me from the meetings? Maybe it was “Hi, are you paid by the FBI?”.

So the Republican National Convention is over, many people think that the danger of provocateurs is over, Actually, no!

At the Gaza protest on Monday, there were similar dark dressed people with faces covered. One of those face-covered people was discrediting the protest by burning flags. Note that provocateurs don’t have to come from the police, they could come from the militaristic Zionist movement. While I was there, here is Dick Bernard’s description:

It didn’t help that the guy with the Israel flag (2nd attachment), whose face was hidden behind a ski mask, was, by his actions, as much as daring someone among the demonstrators to push him, hit him, beat him up, or grab his flag and stomp on it.  He approached the protestors in an “I dare you” sort of way.  He was quite certainly trying to provoke an incident.  

These provocateurs went totally against the wishes of the organizers, “We specifically asked that for no one burn any flags.”

So there is a real need for action! Any group and any rally has to set rules and boundaries like a Peace Pledge or they risk a single face covered provocateur burning a flag to make the evening news and totally discrediting all the good that they were trying to do. In fact a handout of the public pledge should be ready to hand out to the news.

For a good example, here is Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers’ Peace Pledge that every peace action could adopt:

Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers
Commitment to Practice Nonviolence during Demonstrations and Vigils

As peacemakers we will reflect upon and abide by these commitments:

We will use our anger at injustice as a positive force for change.

We will refuse to return the assaults, verbal or physical, of those with whom we disagree.

We will refrain from insults and swearing.

We will not harm the earth and any living species, nor carry weapons.

If arrested as members of a nonviolent vigil or demonstrations, we will behave in a nonviolent manner.

We will not act anonymously nor evade the legal consequences of our actions.

In the event of a serious disagreement about this commitment to practice nonviolence, we will remove ourselves from the action.

Our attitude will be one of openness, friendliness and respect toward all people we encounter, including police officers and city workers. Our goal is never to harm or dismiss those who think and act differently, but to
continue to dialogue and work together in building a more peaceful, just world for all.

Adopted: August 12, 2008

Every peace group must be very proactive in setting the boundaries and rules. In addition, when provocateurs show up, I suggest shouting:

What’s your name provo-ca-teur


You’re not peace provo-ca-teur

So my question is the peace movement smart enough to stop and eject the provocateurs? And has the RNC Welcoming committee finally had enough experience with provocateurs and jails to also stop and eject the provocateurs?

It comes down to this, how can anyone who truly believes in peace, act in violence? And how can we expect our country to act in peace when we cannot even act in peace at our own events?

ericf January 10, 2009 at 2:53 am

how long before Brandon Darby becomes the next David Horowitz? He’ll get a plum job with Fox, the GOP, someone.

magoo January 10, 2009 at 1:51 pm

First of all, this discussion cannot go forward until we address the question of whether property damage is “violence.”  That assaulting people is “violence” is not in question.  However, many people question whether assaulting a window or a tire should be considered the same as assaulting a person.  Some people argue that this is one of the chief sins of capitalism: it encourages us to treat people like things and things like people.  Windows do not have rights; people have rights.

While seeing a window smashed is certainly frightening, it must be questioned whether it is actually all that dangerous, especially if no one is behind it.  The smashing of the Starbucks window in Seattle has become the quintessential symbol of the 1999 protest against the World Trade Organization.  It is the visual image that convinced many people that the Seattle protests were “violent” although the chief accomplishment of that protest was to prevent the WTO from meeting by entirely non-violent means — it was protestors sitting in the streets that achieved this goal; busting windows was a side-show.

The Seattle protests shook the nation’s law enforcement officers to the core.  Every single one of them vowed that it would never happen on their watch.  At the same time, the success of the Seattle protests greatly excited many protestors, who wanted to try the same tactics in their own cities.  As techniques like “the sleeping dragon” — where protestors chain themselves together with their arms inside PVC pipes and then lie down in the street — made their way from Seattle to Washington to Baltimore to New York, a different style of policing has developed to counter these large, well-organized protests.  In place of the “negotiated” style of policing protest that developed between police and the traditional peace movement, a more militarized form of policing has developed (the Miami model — named for the 2004 RNC security plan) that relies on surveillance, infliltration, pre-emptive raids, pre-emptive arrests, harrassment of journalists, “free speech zones” that are actually outdoor prisons, and a massive police presence bent on herding protestors along designated routes which can be changed at the whim of the police irrespective of the original permit.

It is true that protestors have lost many of their civil liberties under this new regime but the loss did not come about because the Seattle protests were violent, but because they were successful.  (No group of activists has ever been able to replicate this success, in any city.)

magoo January 10, 2009 at 4:18 pm

“How can anyone who truly believes in peace, act in violence?”

In the given context, this question assumes that “property damage = violence” and that “burning a flag that you yourself bought and paid for = violence.”

In the United States, the traditional peace movement is pacifistic in character because it is the offspring of the very successful American Civil Rights movement.  The Civil Rights movement (the part that we are most familiar with, the part led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.) was pacifistic in character because Bayard Rustin, who was raised in a Quaker household, convinced King that this was the way to go.

As such, the traditonal peace movement is based on explicitly Christian principles and undergirded by Christian spirituality.  It meshes well with Buddhist and Hindu spirituality, can be accepted by some Jews and is even embraced by some atheists.  However, many atheists reject these principles and the concept of satyagraha does not mesh well with current popular Muslim culture.  (It is not true that there is no pacifist tradition among Muslims, it just happens to be very obscure right now.)

Anarchism is a European-derived philosophy which stresses the right of human beings to be free and to manage their affairs through non-hierarchical, egalitarian, and very local mutual-aid societies free from the interference of governments or the domination of corporations.  It rejects the republican form of democracy found in most Western nations where citizens elect representatives to make decisions for them.  Instead, it favors the direct democracy of ancient Greece or modern Switzerland where each citizen votes directly on proposals put before the community.  Although some anarchists are religious (Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin were Catholic Christians), most seem not to be, or at least do not take an explicitly religious political stance.  Their opposition to the war in Iraq or the war in Gaza stems from their conviction that these wars are a form of oppression — one nation trying to control another.  They hold that people who are attacked have the right to defend themselves and that people who are oppressed have the right to rise up and overthrow their oppressors.  Although American anarchists are heavily influenced by the traditional peace movement and almost exclusively non-violent if you don’t count property damage (and still mostly non-violent even if you do), they are not likely to criticize the methods that oppressed peoples in other countries use to free themselves from oppression.  Like Thomas Jefferson, they think that people have the right to overthrow tyranny by force, although cultural conditioning largely prevents them from using such methods themselves.

If you went to the RNC Welcoming Committee Meetings, you know better than I how many people were there.  Twenty-one felonies have been charged in the wake of the RNC protests.  I have yet to see one that involved anything beyond property damage.  There are two photographs of violence against persons committed by protestors — in both cases, witnesses say that the protestors were defending themselves from assault by others.  In contrast, there are scores of photographs of cops assaulting protestors.  What’s that ratio?  Fifty to one?  A hundred to one?  The vast majority of the violence — the real violence against persons — was committed by law enforcement personnel.  It was what people started calling it on Twitter without even realizing the implication of what they were saying — it was a police riot.  It was a police riot planned in advance and the antics of the “black bloc” were not the cause of the violence — they were just the trip-wire that set previously prepared plans in motion.  

It is certainly possible that there were provateurs among those who were smashing things (though probably not among those charged, since, as you noted, the provacateurs who work for the police tend to go free).  However, some of these individuals genuinely  wanted to disrupt the convention of war-mongers gathering to celebrate a war-hero who advocated for the ramping-up of the war in Iraq.  Some had no hope of actually influencing foreign policy, but like Martin Luther, they had to take a stand.  These were stands of conscience, however much you or I may disagree with the tactics.  To suggest that anyone who does something that you disapprove of is a provocateur is to belittle the conscience of others and to arrogate the realm of conscientious objection to yourself.  

Holly Cairns January 11, 2009 at 11:36 pm

Magoo said:

It rejects the republican form of democracy found in most Western nations where citizens elect representatives to make decisions for them.  Instead, it favors the direct democracy of ancient Greece or modern Switzerland where each citizen votes directly on proposals put before the community.

Magoo, I’m still trying to figure out your take on all of this.  You support using violence in protests?  Or you just want to clarify what is violence?  Why bring in the discussion on anarchy?

One thing for sure, your definition of anarchy is too outdated.  It’s been a long time since Aristotle penned his view.  Anarchy is anti-social and a casting off of rule in general, and due to the size of our societies, not a good idea.  Survival of the fittest doesn’t always go so well.  Republics/ republican democracies are a much better idea.

Plus, as a side note:  Direct democracy’s vulernability? Incorrect tally.  Even computerized direct democracy is too risky for electing our precious representatives.

I, for one, think peaceful protests get just as much done as violent protests without the hurt (via direct violence or damage to property).  The best way to protest now, as long as our officials are elected (we hold them accountable)?  I think it is the blog or the written word combined with pictures of events.  

But beware the blogger who writes “fact” that isn’t, and beware the blogger who writes “this is fact.”  Better to say “in my opinion” and “here’s what I saw, what does it mean?”  I forget that, though. I’m not blogging anymore and so phew!

“Provacateur found” is pretty conclusive…  I worry about you being too sure on that, Kelly, simply for where that could lead you.  I’ve seen the inside of a courtroom for protesting (Honeywell, not me that was carried off) and it wasn’t a nice atmosphere.  

I now think there has got to be a certain amount of citizen protection, and there are many ways to raise your voice…  my uncle was only blocks away from the W TC that day, and as a matter of fact he should have been on the subway riding below them at the time or very near the time of the collapse.  I don’t have many elders left and so yikes!  I still need him to guide me along.

magoo January 12, 2009 at 6:43 am

“Magoo, I’m still trying to figure out your take on all of this. You support using violence in protests? Or you just want to clarify what is violence?”

I do want to clarify what is violence.  I think we should distinguish between violence against persons and property damage because failing to do so muddies the waters and allows people to equate broken bones with broken windows.  I am not in favor of breaking either bones or windows but I think we need some perspective on the relative harm done in each case.  They aren’t equal.

Secondly, I know that Brandon Darby is not a provocateur just because Lisa Fithian says he is.  Nevertheless, I know that people usually turn informant and deal in entrapment either because they are being paid to do so or because the FBI has charges pending against them and is pressuring them to help with another case in exchange for favorable treatment regarding their own charges.  So I think her story is plausible.  One thing that impressed me was the number of experienced activists who faulted Darby for not steering the youngsters in a better direction.  In this context, they affirm what Kelly said — people who advocate violence — real violence against persons — are often provocateurs.

Still, I cannot agree that anyone who advocates or engages in property damage is a provocateur because I know of at least a few who are not.

And finally, burning a flag that belongs to you is neither injurious to others, nor is it necessarily provocation — it might simply be an expression of flaming anger against a country that is killing your countrymen.


“Anarchy is anti-social and a casting off of rule in general,”

Currently, people do use the word ‘anarchy’ to represent what you are describing.

‘Anarchism,’ however, is a social theory that advocates a society in which there are no political, economic or social hierarchies, but all are equal and deal with each other as equals, on an equal footing.


“Why bring in the discussion on anarchy?”

I brought it up to address this question: “It comes down to this, how can anyone who truly believes in peace, act in violence?”

Embedded as it is in Kelly’s blog, the question is based on the assumption that to advocate an end to the war in Iraq, or the war in Gaza is to advocate peace.  And that the only way to advocate peace is the way that the Christian-based anti-war movement has done it.

I’ve tried to show that some groups oppose the war in Iraq or the war in Gaza, not because they want peace for the sake of peace but because they want to see an end to oppression.  It’s the oppression, not the lack of peace that bothers them.  In their view, peace is nice, but justice is essential.

The RNC Welcoming Committee was a meeting of anarchist groups from around the nation.  Their reasons for opposing the Iraq War arose from their philosophy.  So did their willingness to accept property damage as a legitimate mode of protest.  If I can show this, I can explain why these acts of vandalism occured, and I can refute the notion that anyone who advocates or commits property damage is necessarily a provocateur.

I do, however, sympathize with Kelly’s observation that peace groups need to get some control over their own events so that they can project the message they actually want to send and not get hijacked by outsiders.

magoo January 10, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Now as to that rally at the State Capitol . . .

The current brands of Islamic popular culture hold that Muslims have both the right and the duty to defend themselves and other Muslims.  That does not necessarily make them violent —  American Muslims have been exceptionally well-behaved.  But they’re not pacifists, either,  and they cannot be shoe-horned into the traditions of the largely-Christian American peace movement.  

Nevertheless, the rally against the war in Gaza held on the steps of the Capitol building earlier this week was resolutely 100% peaceful,  in spite of the enormous anger felt by the participants over the killing of hundreds of Palestinians.  Claiming that a few impassioned young people who burnt a flag (a flag that they bought and paid for) at the very end of a rally just as it was breaking up — claiming that this was the act of provacateurs — especially claiming that they were provacateurs in the same sense as Brandon Darby is alleged to have been a provacateur — is really way out there.  First of all, they waited until the rally was over.  Secondly, when the state trooper came over to put out the fire, they put it out themselves.  Everyone was already going home and they went home, too.  End of story.

Coleen Rowley January 10, 2009 at 9:04 pm

I’ll chime in with Magoo who really furnishes some very astute comments above as to the dynamics of protest, civil disobedience, and “anarchism”  as well as the policing of such events and what actually happened during the RNC.  I don’t know how Magoo came about his/her insights but mine come from the good opportunity I’ve had as an insider to see these issues play out from both sides: from the law enforcement as well as the peace activist sides.  

Most people are at a disadvantage in understanding these issues unless they have studied the variety of peace and social justice movements as well as the history (both recent and past) of the standard ways and forms of police (or other “intelligence” officials’) tactics to the extent that Magoo obviously has, as illustrated by the depth of his/her comments.

My 24 years in the FBI (with the last couple years spent in “intelligence” and as the FBI’s “informant coordinator” in the so-called “war on terror” taught me a lot of things but one is that the answers do not lie in simplistic notions of good versus evil or simplistic right versus wrong.  

So altho’ I definitely would agree with Grace Kelly about non-violence as a general proposition and I don’t think anyone seriously disagrees that Martin Luther King’s and Ghandi’s methods were and are the absolutely preferred and most constructive ones, IT IS A BIT MORE COMPLEX THAN THAT.  I think the following quotes are amongst the best wisdom and that’s why I included them in my recent op-ed “No Victors in the War on Dissent” co-authored with William John Cox, who has even more law enforcement insider experience than myself (over 40 years!):

A Vet for Peace leader of one of the peace marches at the RNC assessed it as follows:

   ”Nonviolent civil disobedience is the logical action for peace loving people who have tried in every way to work within the legal system only to find that those in power refuse to listen to the voices of the oppressed. I do not agree with destruction of other people’s property as a means of expressing opinion, but direct violence against living creatures is a far greater offense. In the case of the RNC protests, by far the greatest perpetrators of violence were law enforcement officials.”

Absolutely no one could have analyzed this paradox more astutely than Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis when he observed:

   ”In a government of law, the existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.”  


Grace Kelly January 11, 2009 at 12:35 am

I just recently had to fix a flat tire. I think it was caused by Pawlenty’s poorly maintained roads for I just driven through a road construction area. However it could have been a politically motivated slashed tire that simply acted at that exact moment. The Tires Plus people were particularly strange when they described the slash, like they were implying it wasn’t normal.

I am not rich, so that money spent means that my family eats a little less well. So maybe we are not as healthy, so maybe we are sick more.

Maybe that slashed tire could have swerved my car into on coming traffic and I could have died.

Hence property damage can and does hurt people.

Wait, wait, let’s explore this idea more!

Let’s continue with this idea that property damage does not count and it is ok in political protest. I happen to politically disagree with the RNC protesters that used property damage. So I am then allowed to go into their living quarters and break their stuff, after all it is just property damage! How about if I just slashed tires of their bicycles, their cars or the buses that they ride home. After all, by their own rules, it would just be just property damage and therefore perfectly alright. So if I slashed the tires of RNC tire-slashing protester’s vehicles then I would expect no charges, no expectation of payment and no complaint. In fact, I should expect these people to see the property damage and understand this damage is because they are deeply morally wrong. So these people will see the property damage and suddenly become politically transformed into supporting my political perspective.

Obviously I have not yet learned this trick of slashing tires in order to persuade people to my side.

Coleen Rowley January 11, 2009 at 2:59 am

I hope you didn’t misunderstand my comment.  I don’t agree at all with the idea “that property damage does not count and it is OK in political protest”.  I do, however, emphatically disagree with the Minnesota Patriot Act’s equating property damage with “an act dangerous to life” (pertinent part of definition in the federal Patriot Act).  Because what that does is it blurs “civil disobedience” with terrorism.  There is this middle area of “civil disobedience” which while sometimes comprising illegal acts (maybe things like illegal trespass, graffiti or blocking intersections) should—very fine line here—not be confused with actual terrorism.  As Magoo explained, the “Miami tactics” came about as a reaction to the Seattle situation.  In my opinion, the Miami FTAA policing was very wrong in this respect, precisely because the police blurred tactics of civil disobedience with terrorism and overreacted, shooting protesters with rubber bullets, etc.  This is really the problem post 9-11 if you read Mr. Cox and my op-ed.  David Brancaccio’s NOW show produced a good expose of the various mistakes that  occurred as a result of the heavy-handed policing at the FTAA in Miami–and if I remember right, the ACLU tried to follow up to make clearer the differences (albeit they are fine lines)–but the problems were largely swept under the rug just as other government wrongdoing has all been swept under the rug since 9-11 (i.e. torture, warrantless monitoring, etc.).  

Unfortunately, the Miami Model with its mistaken approach now serves as the precedent just as our terrible RNC policing might serve as a model for future National Special Security Events.  Additionally, there’s the overbroad “intelligence” collection and use of pre-emptive raids and detentions that will naturally accompany the Miami Model, all of which hearkens back to COINTELPRO and other official repression of social justice and peace groups that occurred during the 60′s.  From my and my co-author’s experience, none of this type of over-broad and heavy-handed policing and infiltration-”intelligence” collection about activist groups really even helps the police prevent true violence and terrorism.      

Grace Kelly January 11, 2009 at 4:43 am

For me breaking windows and slashing tires at a sports event or political event should be treated the same way. I agree that in neither case should breaking windows and slashing tires be treated the same as threatening or harming a person.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: