May 2012, Week 3


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Mon, 21 May 2012 21:53:23 -0400
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Police Entrapment of Cleveland 5 and NATO 3 is Nothing

by Jake Olzen

Waging Nonviolence 

May 20, 2012

[Use the URL above to access links embedded in the

The old trope of the bomb-throwing anarchist is back in
the news, with a round-up in Ohio on May 1 and the
three would-be NATO protesters arrested on Wednesday
who are now charged with conspiracy to commit
terrorism. While the impression that appears in the
media is one of remnants of the Occupy movement verging
toward violence, the driving forces behind these plots
are the very agencies claiming to have foiled them.

The five activists arrested in Cleveland, Ohio, are
facing multiple charges for conspiring and attempting
to destroy the Brecksville-Northfield High Level Bridge
on May Day to protest corporate rule. According to the
FBI press statement released shortly after the May 1
arrests, FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony
said "the individuals charged in this plot were intent
on using violence to express their ideological views."
But that is only one side of the story.

The mainstream media and blog reports, both nationally
and in Cleveland, have emphasized that the young
activists were part of Occupy Cleveland and
self-identified anarchists (here, here, and here). The
men -- Douglas L. Wright, 26, of Indianapolis; Brandon
L. Baxter, 20, of nearby Lakewood; Connor C. Stevens,
20, of suburban Berea; and Joshua S. Stafford, 23, and
Anthony Hayne, 35, both of Cleveland -- were arrested
and remain in jail after they attempted to detonate a
false bomb that they had set, in conjunction with the

It's an old script: Violence-prone anarchists devise a
nefarious plan and, just before they can carry it out,
law enforcement swoops in to save the day, catching
them red-handed. But there's another script being acted
out here too, one much more sinister, complex, and
morally and legally dubious: Agents of the state
infiltrate an activist group and, through techniques of
psychological manipulation, lead its most vulnerable
members into a violent plan -- for which explosives,
detonators, contacts and case mysteriously become
available -- until SWAT teams and prosecutors suddenly
arrive and haul the accomplices off to jail for the
rest of their lives. In both cases, at the end of the
story, officials congratulate each other for their
bravery and bravado and the public breathes a sigh of
relief as more of their civil liberties are stripped

I recently spoke with Richard Schulte, a veteran
activist who has known the Five from groups like Food
Not Bombs and is helping to organize their legal and
jail support. Schulte explained that under the
influence of undercover federal agents and informants,
the activists -- particularly the youngest, Baxter and
Stevens -- found themselves increasingly vulnerable and
reliant on their informant. Baxter's lawyer, a public
defender named John Pyle, recently identified the
informant working with the group as Shaquille Azir, a
39-year old ex-con.

"[Azir] became something of a role model, stepping in
as a father figure, offering guidance on emotional and
social stuff," said Schulte. "Connor and Brandon
thought he was a rad dude but getting more and more

Collectively, according to accounts from friends and
associates, statements from lawyers, and the FBI
affidavit, members of the Cleveland Five have
backgrounds that include mental illness, substance
abuse, homelessness and social marginalization.

Brandon and Connor had been part of the full-time
occupation over the winter in Cleveland's Public
Square. After having grown frustrated with what they
perceived as the Occupiers' timidity -- Schulte called
it "passive gradualism" -- the Five were encouraged by
Azir to break off from Occupy Cleveland and form their
own, much smaller group, "The People's Liberation
Army." At first it was mostly just a graffiti crew --
tagging the phrase "rise up" around the city and
putting up stickers, said Schulte.

Azir would give them a case of beer in the morning,
according to Schulte, have them work outside on houses
all day, and then give them a case of beer at night. He
gave them marijuana and would wear them down by keeping
them up late into the night with drinking and
conversation -- all the while urging them to break away
from other groups, keep their arrangement secret and
not to trust other activists.

Looking back, Schulte said Azir and the FBI used
"security culture against activists" and "developed
patterns of trust to seem legit." The Cleveland Five,
he explains, "were coached by the federal government."

In a letter Stevens wrote from jail, Schulte told me,
he described the feeling of helplessness he experienced
right before the bust: "We saw this coming," Stevens

"Brought to the edge of the swimming pool"

Andy Stepanian knows a thing or two about state
repression of activists. As one of the animal-rights
activists known as the SHAC 7, Stepanian has served
three and a half years in federal prison after having
been prosecuted under the Animal Enterprise Protection
Act for costing animal testing laboratories more than
$380 million in lost profits simply by operating a
website. While the SHAC 7 case did not involve FBI
entrapment or property destruction, the specific
targeting of activists because of their anti-capitalist
activism was reflective of a new era of post-9/11 state
surveillance and repression.

When I talked to him on the phone about the Cleveland
Five, Stepanian surmised, "These folks would not have
gone out and done this if not brought to the edge of
the swimming pool by federal agents and urged to jump

The FBI affidavit -- analyzed here
(http://rt.com/usa/news/cleveland-fbi-bomb-may-433/) by
RT -- confirms, again, what many have warned about
regarding the growing surveillance and security
agencies in the United States: To keep themselves
employed and justify their budgets, people in agencies
like the FBI are orchestrating plots to catch
"terrorists" who, otherwise, seem to be quite unable to
do anything on their own. Last fall,Mother Jones
reported on FBI efforts against Muslim extremists and
concluded that many of those were instances of
entrapment as well.

In activist circles, there are a series of notorious
cases of entrapment by federal authorities. In 2006,
for instance, environmental activist Eric McDavid,
encouraged by an informant known as "Anna," was
convicted on conspiracy charges. Another more notorious
case is that of Brandon Darby -- a well-known anarchist
and activist-turned-informant -- and his entrapment of
David McKay and Bradley Cowder. The award winning film,
Better This World, tells the story of how McKay and
Cowder were convicted on charges of conspiracy to
commit terrorism.

"In most cases," said Stepanian, "this is not one
coordinated crackdown with a puppet-master. It's a
bottom-up [phenomenon] where special investigators are
creating things for themselves to do. They go to
potential targets to justify their position and create
work for themselves."

Perhaps even more troubling than the manipulation of
vulnerable individuals -- whether they be political
activists or members of mosques -- is the way in which
law enforcement meanwhile manipulates public discourse
about terrorism, Islam or, in this case, a growing
social movement.

According to Schulte, the operation in Cleveland
appears to have been part of a pre-planned narrative
meant to paint Occupiers as a group with terrorist
thugs in their midst, discouraging others from joining
the movement. The FBI had a media statement prepared
for immediate release on May Day after the arrests, and
it hosted an unusually high-profile press conference
the following day. There have been more than 300 pleas
involving FBI informants in six years and such kind of
overt media blitz from the feds is rare. Rolling Stone
reporter Rick Perlstein observes, comparing two
different anti-terrorism operations at the end of
April, "that the State is singling out ideological
enemies." He reports that authorities are much less
likely, for instance, to use tactics of entrapment
against violent white supremacist groups.

Investigative journalist Will Potter is an expert on
state-sponsored targeting of radical activist groups
who has testified before Congress on FBI entrapment and
is the author of a book (and an accompanying blog)
titled Green is the New Red.Potter calls the Cleveland
Five conspiracy "part of the ongoing focus on
demonizing anarchists." Just a cursory look at the
headlines in Chicago and Cleveland confirms a growing
association of anarchism with violence and terrorism
while alienating radical movements from potential

Occupy Cleveland responds

Each of the Cleveland Five entered pleas of not guilty
in federal court last week. As the trial of these young
men plays out, their fates rest in which story is more
compelling -- their own victimhood, or the cunning of
the federal agents. Although they were not taking
action in the name of Occupy Cleveland, the future of
Occupy and related movements in the United States is at
stake in which story the public chooses to believe.

Occupy Cleveland, one of the movement's longest-lasting
encampments, had the remnants of its occupation removed
by police in the middle of the night on May 3. There
was little public outcry, when the city revoked its
permit after the May 1 arrests.

Occupy Cleveland spokesperson Katie Steinmuller
stressed that it was only a matter of time before the
camp was evicted, and that it wasn't entirely a result
of the bomb scare. "There was a casino planned to be
opened in view of the tents," said Steinmuller
referring to Occupy Cleveland's camp when I spoke with
her by phone about the eviction. "This [conspiracy] was
just a good excuse to get us out."

In a media statement following the arrests of the
Cleveland Five, Occupy Cleveland affirmed its
commitment to "active non-violence." Individual
occupiers have chosen to join the support team for the
Five, but Occupy Cleveland as a whole is steering clear
of commenting on it further.

"The FBI was successful in ... what they set out to do,"
said Schulte about theinitial negative reaction the
Occupy movement and other activists experienced in
Cleveland. "People were exploited and trapped."

"When you take away a space of legitimate protest,"
adds Stepanian, "less legitimate forms of protest
become more prevalent." Events like the arrests of the
Cleveland Five can create schisms within movements,
which the state exploits to create a climate of fear
within and about activist groups. The NATO 3 arrests
and bond hearing, for instance, just before this
weekend's mass No NATO demonstration, will serve to
deter people from participating and obscure the reality
of the protest's message.

In Chicago, the NATO 3 are each being held on $1.5
million bail. More details will emerge in the coming
weeks, but Michael E. Deutsch, legal counsel for the
NATO 3, has said that two of the 11 arrested during a
house raid in Bridgeport were Chicago Police Department
informants and have since disappeared. The truth of
what really happened in Cleveland and Chicago may or
may not emerge in the courtroom. But it is clear
regardless that Occupy is now being exposed to a new
level of state repression, and that it is taking a toll
on what has still remained a nonviolent protest

[Jake Olzen is an activist/organizer, farmer, and
graduate student at Loyola University Chicago. He is
part of the White Rose Catholic Worker community.]


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