11:21 a.m. July 17, 2013

Public Cops for Private Kochs

In my previous dispatch, I wrote about the Los Angeles Police Department’s long and gnarly history of political surveillance and infiltration of nonviolent groups, beginning with when L.A. was a speculator’s town ruled by a cabal of racist, ultra-reactionary huckster-oligarchs.

After slogging through records spanning a century of LAPD’s covert police ops, I learned that police surveillance has almost always had an ideological component. It’s been done in partnership with the private sector and has targeted groups whose politics threaten specific, local business interests.

Whether the year is 1920 or 2011, cops have overwhelmingly targeted leftist groups and activists. These groups have by their very nature posed a threat to business interests by demanding greater democratic control over political and economic life. Invariably, these leftists — minority and immigrant groups, union members, antiwar protesters and civil rights activists – have been classified as extremists, foreign agents and anti-government agitators. Meanwhile, right-wing and pro-business groups—groups that might actually want to lay waste to entire swaths of the government system—have rarely been targeted for surveillance. On the contrary, these groups often approve of repressive police tactics and even help out with the snooping.

But this Golden Surveillance Truth is not restricted to Los Angeles…

This was the week George Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin, the week the stand-your-ground law was instrumental in getting a racist vigilante-wannabe off the hook. That same law was pushed through, in Florida and elsewhere, by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a Koch-funded free-market legislation mill. So I thought it would be a good time to tell the story of how police departments across the country have monitored, infiltrated and squelched peaceful protests at ALEC’s behest.

The information comes courtesy of the good people at DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy via a report called “Dissent or Terror.” Researched and written by investigative journalist Beau Hodai, the report combines original reporting with information culled from hundreds of pages of FOIA documents and reams of internal police communication. As a whole, it presents a detailed picture of a covert police operation directed against activists organizing an anti-ALEC protest in Phoenix, Arizona.

“Dissent or Terror” is so dense and so full of acronyms and police jargon that at times it is almost indecipherable, and reads like a raw intelligence dump. It’s so impenetrable, in fact, that I had to skip a night of sleep just to piece the stuff together. It is a monumental piece of work that shows how overzealous police covertly mobilized an incredible amount of manpower in order to monitor and neutralize a tiny group of peaceful activists. And all of this was done at taxpayer expense, for the sake of one mega-powerful organization.

Back in the good ol’ days, the detectives from LAPD’s Intelligence Bureau openly worked for local businesses, helping companies to break strikes, to rough up union members and to violently quash any emergent labor activism. Cops were routinely paid by private companies for their work. It was a practice condoned and encouraged by LAPD top brass. So close was the relationship between cops and companies that, for many years, LAPD’s Intelligence Bureau was housed inside the Chamber of Commerce.

But things have changed today, right?

Let’s visit Arizona and find out.

In late November 2011, ALEC planned to hold its annual States and Nation Policy Summit at the posh Westin Kierland Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona. Scottsdale is a high-end suburb of Phoenix, a sort of luxury desert ghetto consisting of an endless maze of cul-de-sacs lined with million-dollar McMansions and top-of-the-line Mercs.

The summit was supposed to be just another free-market powwow, bringing together corporate big wigs and their lackey politicians from across the nation. The schedule included strategy sessions, conferences, golfing sessions and a lot of boozing and eating, all in luxurious five-star surroundings. ALEC had always been able to hold its meetings in near anonymity, away from the prying eyes and grubby keyboard fingers of the news media. But this year was different.

About six months before the summit, ALEC suddenly found itself at the center of a growing scandal that threatened its very existence. Documents leaked by an ALEC insider exposed its corrupt inner workings, revealing it as an organization that functioned as a national networking hub between corporate sponsors and friendly politicians. The leak also revealed ALEC’s role in passing regressive pro-business laws all across the country. Aside from promoting stand-your-ground laws, ALEC has pushed laws to privatize public education, to restrict and suppress voting, to slash taxes and much much more. In Arizona, ALEC was instrumental in the passage of the state’s fascist immigration law—SB 1070—a law designed to racially profile and harass Latinos, and to boost deportation rates. Aside from satisfying the racist lust of Arizona’s loud bagger majority, the law was all but engineered to pad the profit margins of private prison companies, which are increasingly being contracted to run federal deportation camps. Not surprisingly, both Geo Group and Corrections Corporation of America — the two largest private prison companies in the U.S. — are longtime members of ALEC and had a hand in the legislation. (Read my dispatch on Geo Group’s deportation concentration camp in Victorville…)

ALEC’s annual summit in Arizona was supposed to be a victory celebration. But the outfit suddenly found that it was on enemy territory, facing a serious backlash from immigration activists, Arizona’s large Latino community and the Occupy Phoenix movement. Indeed, almost as soon as the scandal broke, local activists began to plan a protest outside the luxury resort where ALEC had arranged to hold its summit.

What’s a poor oligarch-backed group like ALEC to do?

Call 911, of course.

*

The anti-ALEC protest kicked off on November 30, 2011, about 12 hours after I had been hauled off to jail for reporting on the LAPD raid on the Occupy LA encampment.

For months leading up to the protest, local Phoenix law enforcement had been gathering intelligence. Their analysis predicted a high possibility of a violent attack by cop-killing anarchist extremists.

But the paranoia regarding the size of the protest turned out to be unfounded. With just a few hundred protesters in attendance, the opposition was small and inconsequential. It amounted to a few people standing outside the resort armed with placards and papier-mâché dummies representing evil “two-faced” politicians, and even a pretty cool anarchist marching band. All in all, it was nothing to update your black bloc anarchist blog about.

But the security presence was something else. It was big enough to hold back a sustained Taliban attack. Hell, police and private security formed a better ring of defense around the ALEC conference than what the CIA compound had in Benghazi.

In addition to the massive police presence, which included two helis, dozens of patrol cars and a few hundred uniformed police armed with batons and decked out in anti-riot paramilitary gear just guarding the main entrances to the resort, ALEC hired 49 active duty cops from the Phoenix Police Department, as well as nine retired police officers, to run private security for the event. Internal documents show that ALEC paid out a total of just over $36,000 to the officers. Going by PPD’s official pay rate for off-duty cops of $35 per hour, ALEC racked up a total of 1,000 billable cop-hours.

Beau Hodai, author of the “Dissent or Terror” report, had rented a room at the resort that day, but was ejected by a bunch of Phoenix cops working on the ALEC payroll. One cop told Hodai that they were being paid “really well” to keep the conference press-free, as he kicked him off the premises.

But even this immense show of force represented just a fraction of the work PPD put into defending ALEC member organizations from peaceful protesters. The manpower used wasn’t restricted to just a few guys standing around and looking tough, nor was it restricted to security during the event. The police campaign to defend ALEC involved a massive, coordinated, privatized security apparatus that worked primarily for ALEC but was fully integrated into official police structures. The campaign lasted many months, and included strategy sessions, a mobile tactic unit, covert intelligence gathering, infiltration and terrorist assessment. All of this was directed by a private organization that represents the biggest, most toxic corporations in the world.

In the end, cops unleashed tear pepper spray to break up the protest, arresting six people and keeping members of the press well at bay. All in all, it was a job well done.

*

Internal police documents and correspondence shows that PPD’s ALEC work detail began in the summer of 2011, about four months ahead of the summit. Law enforcement made its first point of contact with the violent radical protesters in Conspire, a hip vegan cafe in downtown Phoenix. It’s out of business now, but back then alt-weekly Phoenix New Times named the cafe as the “Best Hangout for Anarchists, Revolutionaries and Dreamers.” And indeed it was. Conspire was a hangout for local activists, a place where they met to talk Bakunin and Kropotkin, swap Zapatista trading cards, mend their anarchy patches and, apparently, conspire to carry out acts of violence, all over mugs of kombucha and seitan pork.

In the summer of 2011, just as the Occupy Wall Street movement began spreading from NYC out throughout the United States, Conspire regulars noticed the appearance of a shady new activist amongst them. The guy introduced himself as Saul DeLara. He was clean-cut and fit, wore T-shirts and blue jeans and looked to be somewhere in his 50s. Saul told people that he was homeless, but that he was a long-time anarchist born in Mexico affiliated with a Mexican group called the Fire Cells Conspiracy/Informal Anarchist Federation…which apparently resorted to violent protest tactics, including burning malls. He also had set up a Facebook page with a picture of a couple of people holding an “A” anarchy flag. DeLara’s interests included Emiliano Zapata, “Seinfeld,” “Braveheart” and Scrabble…

“[A] creepy guy who looked like he was probably a cop,” is how local anti-war activist Ian Fecke-Stoudt described people’s initial reaction to Saul in an interview with Beau Hodai. Ian, who had been involved in feeding the homeless and tried to break the hug world record in 2008, said it was clear Saul was not genuine, and he was especially eager and curious — too curious — to learn about their plans for ALEC:

“There’s a certain thing that people do, when you can tell they’re interested in something, but they’re trying not to talk about it… where, whenever they hear, like, even the slightest mention of that thing, they come running over and they start listening intently, or, like, they’ll just kind of slowly put themselves into the conversation—that’s what he did.

“Once, after a PAC meeting… he was hanging about and somebody said something about ALEC and, you know, he just kind of suddenly appeared in the conversation. I didn’t see it happen at that time, because I was engaged in the conversation, but I’m like, all of a sudden, ‘there’s Saul. Why is Saul in this conversation all of a sudden?’”

Analyzing internal police correspondence, CMD’s Hodai determined that “Saul DeLara” was most probably undercover detective Saul Ayala, who was part of the PPD’s Major Offender Bureau, an elite unit that mostly hunts dangerous fugitives, violent felons, organized criminal rings and gangs, including infiltrating the Hells Angels and their drug running ops.

Internal records show that detective Saul Ayala spent months gathering intelligence on local anarchists and sniffing out their plans to “disrupt” the ALEC conference. Ayala passed this info on to his superior in the PPD’s Career Criminal Squad, who would in turn pass it further up the chain to PPD’s Homeland Defense Bureau and the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center, also known as the Arizona Fusion Center, that’s run in conjunction with the FBI, DHS and other state and federal security agencies. Once in the fusion center, the info can be accessed by just about any law-enforcement agency, including private security contractors.

Ayala was forced to abandon his assignment a few weeks before the anti-ALEC protest, after he was confronted and outed as a cop by an immigrants’ rights activist who worked at a Starbucks and recognized him as the cop who regularly came in to buy coffee. But he continued to take a part in police planning for the event, and personally participated in ALEC defense strategy sessions, which included the representatives from a private security firm working for ALEC, as well as analysts from the Arizona Fusion Center.

In fact, the Fusion Center’s Phoenix antiterrorism analyst seemed way too focused on monitoring Occupy Phoenix and their anti-ALEC activities. Her name was Brenda Dowhan. Her official title was Terrorism Liaison All-Hazards Analyst.

Dowhan was clearly no whiz at this antiterror intel stuff, but she managed to keep herself busy. Police correspondence from the time bulges with emails between Dowhan, local, state and federal law-enforcement authorities. From the report:

PPD personnel regularly fed [Dowhan’s] logs containing the names, addresses, social security numbers, driver’s license/state identification numbers, and physical descriptions of citizens arrested, issued citations… or even given “warnings” by police/... in connection with Occupy Phoenix. The vast majority of these citizens who had been arrested, or had other interactions with PPD, were cited/warned for alleged violations of the city’s “urban camping” ordinance.

In December 2011, Dowhan alerted her anti-terrorism colleagues in the Flagstaff area about a couple of Occupy Phoenix members who posted their plans to travel there on Facebook. That same month Brenda tracked down the real identity of a Guy Fawkes dipshit named David Mullen, who had the dumb idea of sending a mass email out to the Phoenix police department politely asking the cops to “Please leave the Occupy movement alone.” Brenda tracked Mullen down because Phoenix Assistant Police Chief Tracy Montgomery thought his letter contained a veiled threat, and put the department on the case to figure out who this guy was.

In other words, Phoenix cops activated investigative units that normally pursue organized crime, hardened violent criminals and terrorist activity to spy on a few skinny vegan anarchists. Not only that, but the police were funneling the intelligence up to the feds and private security firms—all to protect a pro-business legislative outfit from criticism.

One other incident that stood out in this mountain of shoddy and spurious intelligence work was an alarmist internal “official use only” bulletin released by the Fusion Center in Phoenix. The bulletin warned local law enforcement about a possible threat to their safety from Occupy/anti-ALEC protesters. The threat? Police found a pamphlet circulating among Occupy/anti-ALEC protesters that called on activists to shoot and murder cops in cold blood. The dreaded day had finally come: vegan anti-war anarchists were showing their true terrorist colors!

Here’s how the bulletin described the intelligence:

Copies of an “informational” letter were left on a table for protestors [to] pick up and read during the “Occupy Phoenix” event at Cesar Chavez Park. The presence of the letter was reported to the ACTIC [Fusion Center] by a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Deputy who had responded to an unrelated call and was alerted to it by another deputy working the event.

The letter is blatantly anti-government and anti-law enforcement in nature. It not only condones but even encourages citizens to kill any “government agent” (i.e. law enforcement officers), who in their perception violates their rights. Examples are given in the document, of “illegal” search and seizure, sobriety and border checkpoints, airport security, etc… In essence this document states that citizens have the right and moral obligation to resist any action by law enforcement that is viewed as a violation of the citizen’s rights, and often-times resistance involves killing officers.

The bulletin closed with this bone-chilling warning: “With emotions high in regards to law enforcement and government personnel, there is obvious concern this document could incite actions with protestors to take actions they might not have taken otherwise.”

News of the anti-terrorism bulletin quickly spread through the bagger mediasphere. Fox News picked it up, as did Glenn Beck’s “The Blaze.” To them it was just another example of the radical, violent anti-American tendencies of Occupy Wall Street activists and their Democratic Party handlers. “Hot Air” host Ed Morrissey wondered:

“I’m curious to see how the media in Arizona and the rest of the nation approach this development. They went into convulsions retroactive to the Gabrielle Giffords shooting that killed six other people; which the media used to paint the Tea Party and conservatives as somehow responsible for the massacre… Will they hold the Occupy movement to the same ridiculous standard? I’m betting …. no.”

Local journalists in Phoenix were skeptical of the story. For one thing, no one had actually seen these pamphlets, other than the Mericopa County Sheriff’s deputy who had found them.

But there was an even bigger problem with this supposed extremist Occupy literature. The pamphlet wasn’t produced by leftist Occupy activists protesting unchecked corporate power. It had in fact come straight off the Koch assembly line. It was a reprint of an essay written by an anarcho-capital-voluntaryist nutcase by the name of Larken Rose, who equates all government with terrorism. Yes. All government. “So are the people who work at the IRS terrorists? Well, yes. They are,” says Mr. Rose. His essay about the need to kill cops dead had been published a few months earlier by CopBlock.com, a libertarian outfit run by Koch-Jugend operatives Pete Eyre and Adam Mueller. The folks behind CopBlock.com want it to come off as a legitimate outfit dedicated to police reform and documenting police brutality. But in reality the site is a knockoff operation that only mimics similar organizations like Cop Watch, while really pushing a toxic agenda to privatize public police departments.

The reason I know about these clowns is because I ran into them in 2011. At the time Mark Ames and I were investigating for The Nation a right-wing campaign aiming to prevent TSA airport screeners from unionizing, with a view to replacing them with private contractors who would use racial-profiling techniques. Both Eyre and Mueller were boosting for the privatization of TSA back in 2010. Both are currently involved in the revolutionary Koch project to have libertarian activists take over the town of Keene, New Hampshire. On the side, Eyre runs a blog that collects cool baggertarian tats, including the extremely popular Sumerian cuneiform that baggers think means “freedom” but in reality stands for “moochers” and “freeloaders”…

So… a violent anti-cop manifesto published and promoted by a Koch-backed police privatization project was now being used to smear political activists protesting a powerful Koch-funded organization, one that has, among other things, spearheaded privatization efforts nationwide. Make of that what you will…

In the end, Phoenix law enforcement moved forward with the expectation that activists would resort to violence during the anti-ALEC protest in Scottsdale:

“The ACTIC [Fusion Center] has identified groups that intend [to] ‘Shut ALEC Down.’ While some may merely protest the event, such as Anti-SB1070 and the Occupy Phoenix movement, anarchist groups have shown a determination to disrupt and shut down the event with the use of violent tactics experienced by other states hosting these meetings. The Phoenix Police Department is taking the lead to identify and intercept persons they believe to pose a threat to the event or attendees.”

And identify them they did. Thanks to work of the entire Fusion Center intelligence team, local law enforcement was able to cobble together a “face sheet” containing the names and mug-shot-style photographs of two-dozen individuals who posed a risk to peaceful ALEC lackeys assembled in Scottsdale. Six people, whose photos were framed in bright red colors, were considered particularly dangerous, and supposedly had “committed assault on police officers.”

Two-dozen dangerous protesters? By most accounts the entire Occupy Phoenix encampment rarely—if ever—had more than 50 people staked out in tents and sleeping bags in Cesar Chavez Plaza in downtown Phoenix.

How much did all this sleuthing cost Arizona’s right-wing anti-tax taxpayers? Documents show that just three days’ worth of policing Occupy Phoenix in mid-October cost the PPD $250,000. And PPD was monitoring Occupy Phoenix/anti-ALEC activists for nearly two full months.

Still, at least the heavy-handed police tactics were appreciated by all freedom-lovin’ politicians from around the country. A few days after the cops hired by ALEC managed to quash the protest, Lt. Charlie Consolian, who was head of PPD’s Violent Crimes Bureau Gang Enforcement Unit and helped draft his department’s “ALEC Operations Plan,” got a thank you note from an out-of- state politician: Kansas State Representative TerriLois Gregory:

Lt. Consolian

I just returned from the ALEC convention in Phoenix where you coordinated the security detail. Your officers were polite, attentive, and a very welcomed presence.

Please pass on to your staff how grateful I am for their assistance which allowed us to do our jobs [sic] as legislators to educate ourselves in how to better [sic] help our home state. I am praying for the safety of all in your department and wish everyone a Merry Christmas and the Lord’s richest blessings in 2012.

[Signed Rep. TerriLois Gregory] Kansas House of Representatives

Lt. Consolian, who had served as the “Operations Commander” and “Alpha Force Leader” of PPD forces during their heroic stand against anti-ALEC anarchists, beamed with pride after receiving the letter, and forwarded it to a few dozen of his fellow PPD officers.

“I wanted to tell each one of you and your squads thank you very much for the fine job that everyone did at the ALEC conference. … Your efforts do not go unnoticed and please pass on my thanks to all of your officers/detectives. I have also included an email I received from a State Representative from Kansas thanking everyone for their good work.”

Who is Rep. Gregory from Kansas? Well, she’s a stout blond woman who loves God and motorcycles. She’s also been known to covertly record conversations with her colleagues. Her bare-bones website has a picture of Mrs. Gregory smiling next to Kansas’ Koch-sponsored governor Sam Brownback. It also contains the following “position overview”:

Limited Government, Protection of Kansas Sovereignty, Balance Budget, Reduce Wasteful Spending, Reduce Tax Burden on Business and Citizens, Encourage Business Development; Free Enterprise, Protect the 2nd Amendment, Support Pro-Family Legislation, Eliminate the Waiting List for Disabled Children, Improve Education, Support for Emergency Responders, Protect Individual’s Freedom to choose Healthcare

Preach on, sister! Preach on!

There you have it: a free-market crusader from the heart of the Kochs’ empire in Kansas who is against wasteful government spending and believes in limited government… but who also supports a massive police state that infiltrates peaceful protest groups, compiles dossiers of political activists and uses the scariest big-government police-state tactics to suppress legal and legitimate political activity of American citizens on American soil.The reason? The protestors disagree with her vision of a free-market America.

Speaking of the Kochs and free markets, here’s one fun little detail buried in the police documents: Charles Koch and his son, Chase, hired a bunch of off-duty Wichita cops to guard their homes and offices in February 2012 during an “Occupy Koch Town” event taking place in Wichita…

Occupy Wichita dedicated these predominantly educational events to discussion of national fossil fuel policy and the influence of Wichita-based Koch Industries, and the corporation’s majority shareholders, Charles and David Koch, in American democracy.

You can picture the Kochs sitting in their homes, worried about the scary protesters outside. Surely that alone – scaring the bejeezus out of the Kochs – is enough to justify the entire Occupy Wall Street movement.