Individuals who engaged in civil disobedience during “Moral Monday” protests are on trial in North Carolina. During the first trial of one of the protesters arrested, it came out in testimony that police for the state’s legislature conducted undercover surveillance and collected intelligence on “anarchists.”
“Moral Monday” protests were organized throughout the summer by the North Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). They were held to challenge a Republican state legislature that had rejected federal funds for Medicaid that would have helped a half million poor people, promoted policies to defund public education, cut tax credits for hundreds of thousands of poor and working people while giving tax breaks to the wealthiest people in the state, rolled back environmental protections, increased limits on a woman’s right to choose an abortion and for introducing a voter suppression law on April 4th, the same day that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver told a district court, according to The Charlotte Observer, that there were people in the region they considered to be “anarchists” and had “collected intelligence on them.” He did not identify who these “anarchists” were or how many individuals his department had labeled “anarchists” because officers considered them to be “against government.” He did admit that, of the more than 930 individuals arrested during the summer, his officers had “scanned the many ‘Moral Monday’ rallies with eyes trained for ‘anarchists.'”
It also came out that an officer in the department had attended meetings ahead of “Moral Monday” protests at Davie Street Presbyterian Church on May 6 and 13. Weaver claimed the officer was there to “determine how many people were expecting to be arrested to allow the department to gauge the sufficiency of the logistical support, such as transport vehicles, available at the Legislative Building.”
Weaver added, “When it was determined that accurate information could be obtained without attending the meetings, the officer’s presence was discontinued.”
At both of these meetings, the officer could have collected intelligence by singling out anyone in attendance that might have seemed like an “anarchist.” Speech and appearance could have been documented to create a watch list of individuals to monitor at the demonstrations.
This intelligence collection on supposed anarchists should be alarming to anyone who values the right to assembly and free speech. Law enforcement should not be making lists of individuals that should be watched simply because they might be anarchists.
First off, chances are those in the North Carolina General Assembly Police Department have little understanding of what it means to be an anarchist. Their views are likely similar to those in the FBI.
This 2011 presentation shows the FBI thinks current characteristics of the “Anarchist Extremism” movement are “not dedicated to a particular cause,” “criminals seeking an ideology to justify their activities,” “generally unorganized and reactive,” and “made up of younger, educated, middle to upper class individuals.” They are “paranoid/security conscious,” “distrustful/resentful of authority figures,” and “non-cooperative.” They’ll engage in ‘passive’ civil disobedience and active or ‘offensive’ attacks.”
Also, “anarchist extremists” will choose their tactics “based on willingness to face arrest.” They’ll stage actions for “maximum media attention” and use tactics to “cause maximum amount of disruption to the target.” They will use tactics to “create image of ‘aggressive’ law enforcement.”—Which could be used to describe everyone involved in organizing “Moral Mondays” protests inside of the state legislature but no one would say with a straight-face, unless they were a conservative blowhard on the radio, that NAACP leaders were “anarchists.”
What is stopping the General Assembly police from providing intelligence they have gathered on individuals they perceive to be anarchists to the FBI?
A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filed by the American Civil Liberties Union revealed documents that showed the Joint Terrorism Task Force of the FBI was conducting political surveillance of groups like Food Not Bombs, which gives out vegetarian food to hungry people and regularly participates in protests. They also indicated the FBI will interview individuals for the simple purpose of intimidating groups ahead of political conventions or meetings.
For example, after interviewing two student activists, the FBI noted that, “although they did not obtain information about criminal activity from either student, it was unnecessary to contact others in the area as the ‘purpose of the interviews was served.'”
Finally, being raided by the JTTF paramilitary forces and subpoenaed by a grand jury is the extreme of what can happen to alleged anarchists in this country. They are often aggressively pursued as the first suspects when any crimes occur in the vicinity of demonstrations and the pursuit happens regardless of whether there is probable cause.
It is near impossible to distinguish from First Amendment-protected activity and non-violent civil disobedience actions who may or may not engage in violence, criminal activity or domestic terrorism.
When police single out individuals they think are anarchists for placement on some watch list, they are not simply targeting anarchists, who have a right to free speech and assembly like all citizens, but they are also violating the rights of citizens who may have no such political beliefs at all.
As Reverend William Barber, head of the state’s NAACP said, his group would have had no problem with police introducing themselves formally at meetings for the purpose of getting a head count of who would engage in civil disobedience. Police obviously wanted to do something more than facilitate protest.
Additionally, Weaver, the police chief, may say he is not going to discuss intelligence gathering or “operational issues,” but this kind of domestic spying activity by law enforcement is precisely the kind of conduct that should be forced out into the open by the press and the public.