Truthout Original

Pre-Emptive Strikes Against Protest at RNC

Tuesday 02 September 2008

by: Marjorie Cohn, t r u t h o u t | Report

Marcus Washington, a producer from Tennessee who was documenting the antiwar protest, grimaced in pain after he was hit with pepper spray.

In the months leading up to the Republican National Convention, the FBI-led Minneapolis Joint Terrorist Task Force actively recruited people to infiltrate vegan groups and other leftist organizations and report back about their activities. On May 21, the Minneapolis City Pages ran a recruiting story called "Moles Wanted." Law enforcement sought to pre-empt lawful protest against the policies of the Bush administration during the convention.

Since Friday, local police and sheriffs, working with the FBI, conducted pre-emptive searches, seizures and arrests. Glenn Greenwald described the targeting of protesters by "teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with semi-automatic weapons drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets." Journalists were detained at gunpoint and lawyers representing detainees were handcuffed at the scene.

"I was personally present and saw officers with riot gear and assault rifles, pump action shotguns," said Bruce Nestor, the president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, who is representing several of the protesters. "The neighbor of one of the houses had a gun pointed in her face when she walked out on her back porch to see what was going on. There were children in all of these houses, and children were held at gunpoint."

The raids targeted members of "Food Not Bombs," an antiwar, anti-authoritarian protest group that provides free vegetarian meals every week in hundreds of cities all over the world. They served meals to rescue workers at the World Trade Center after 9/11 and to nearly 20 communities in the Gulf region following Hurricane Katrina.

Also targeted, were members of I-Witness Video, a media watchdog group that monitors the police to protect civil liberties. The group worked with the National Lawyers Guild to gain the dismissal of charges or acquittals of about 400 of the 1,800 who were arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. Pre-emptive policing was used at that time as well. Police infiltrated protest groups in advance of the convention.

Nestor said that no violence or illegality has taken place to justify the arrests. "Seizing boxes of political literature shows the motive of these raids was political," he said.

Further evidence of the political nature of the police action was the boarding up of the Convergence Center, where protesters had gathered, for unspecified code violations. St. Paul City Council member David Thune said, "Normally we only board up buildings that are vacant and ramshackle." Thune and fellow City Council member Elizabeth Glidden decried "actions that appear excessive and create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation for those who wish to exercise their First Amendment rights."

"So here we have a massive assault led by Federal Government law enforcement agencies on left-wing dissidents and protesters who have committed no acts of violence or illegality whatsoever, preceded by months-long espionage efforts to track what they do," Greenwald wrote on Salon.

Preventive detention violates the Fourth Amendment, which requires that warrants be supported by probable cause. protesters were charged with "conspiracy to commit riot," a rarely-used statute that is so vague, it is probably unconstitutional. Nestor said it "basically criminalizes political advocacy."

On Sunday, the National Lawyers Guild and Communities United Against Police Brutality filed an emergency motion requesting an injunction to prevent police from seizing video equipment and cellular phones used to document their conduct.

During Monday's demonstration, law enforcement officers used pepper spray, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and excessive force. At least 284 people were arrested, including Amy Goodman, the prominent host of "Democracy Now!," as well as the show's producers, Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. "St. Paul was the most militarized I have ever seen an American city to be," Greenwald wrote, "with troops of federal, state and local law enforcement agents marching around with riot gear, machine guns, and tear gas cannisters, shouting military chants and marching in military formations."

Bruce Nestor said the timing of the arrests was intended to stop protest activity, "to make people fearful of the protests, but also to discourage people from protesting," he told Amy Goodman. Nevertheless, 10,000 people, many opposed to the Iraq war, turned out to demonstrate on Monday. A legal team from the National Lawyers Guild has been working diligently to protect the constitutional rights of protesters.



Marjorie Cohn is president of the National Lawyers Guild and a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. She is the author of "Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law." Her new book, "Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent" (co-authored with Kathleen Gilberd), will be published this winter. Her articles are archived at www.marjoriecohn.com.



This is a moderated forum. It may take a little while for comments to go live.

I live in Minneapolis. I

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 21:49 — Anonymous (not verified)

I live in Minneapolis. I have friends who lived in the houses who were raided. I have friends in jail right now for felony riot charges who were arrested for being street medics, for helping those in need. Reporters from Democracy Now are still being charged with inciting a riot for having the audacity to actually try and show the world what was going down on the streets of St. Paul. If you are reading this you need to wake up. You need to realize that what they do to my brother or sister today they will do to you or me tomorrow. We have no cultural basis to use the word 'Homeland'. It does not come out of our history or our shared language. The only cultures to use it in recent memory are Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa. Wake up before this long night ends and it's early morning and it's your door being broken down and it's your freedom and liberty being taken away in handcuffs by a bunch of paid thugs posing as public servants.

The RNC's terrorist watch

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 21:04 — Diane Noland (not verified)

The RNC's terrorist watch group inflitrated vegan groups? Wow! That really makes me feel safer. Those vegans are the most treacherous and violent people on earth, dontcha know? What a powerful way to spend tax payer dollars: spying on vegan groups. Way to go RNC. We really know how tough you are now!


Tue, 09/02/2008 - 21:04 — CYNTHIA (not verified)


Civil rights are for

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 21:03 — No Future (not verified)

Civil rights are for pussies. American kids need to be held hostage by those with automatic weapons so that they learn real quick that the Constitution is just a god-damned piece of paper!

Isn't there some way to make

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 21:02 — Anonymous (not verified)

Isn't there some way to make these militant police and FBI accountable? What are they doing practicing their homeland anti-terrorist tactics on Americans? Will an after-the-event investigation result in punishment for the police assault? These are the questions for which I want answers.

It looks like WWIII is going

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 20:56 — radline9 (not verified)

It looks like WWIII is going to be aimed at free speech. Welcome to the Brave New World where the name of your crime will be engraved on your back and in your computer file. The terrorists are now running our government so you better be a good little boy and vote for McCain so we can finally be rid of all of those dreaded liberals, protesters, professors, scientists and what-not. Watch out for that taser. Who's Joking? Not me. I'm headed for my hidden camp in the mountains.

The GOP has been the enemy

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 20:53 — Anonymous (not verified)

The GOP has been the enemy of the American people since 1865. They fought every initiative designed for the greater good since. They murdered and jailed labor union leaders, enacted the personal income tax, caused the Great Depression, backed the Nazis, persecuted supposed American citizen communists....you name it. If Bush and his gang of war criminals and thieves are not brought to justice by President Obama they will have succeeded in destroying America.

Why do you say it Bush and

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 20:43 — Anonymous (not verified)

Why do you say it Bush and McCain. Similar events unfolded in Denver last week. Denver PD and state and feds raided homes, smashed computers, unlawfully arrested and stepped all over the constitution. Don't blame the Repugs- thisz went on under Clinton in Chicago. This is not just a slow crawl down a slippery slope, we are at full speed ahead. A unitary Presidency is coming. All power to the Executive! Heil President . . .

The mask has come off. The

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 20:21 — Stickman (not verified)

The mask has come off. The face of the beast stands revealed. Regional governance which was fought mostly by elements of the Right in the 70's has now slapped the left and even liberals upside the face. Regional governance is a top-down operation emanating from that Eye upside the pyramid on the back of the $1 Fed note. Primary focus of this anti-democratic and thoroughly non-small R-republican form of pre-dictatorial authoritarianism is national control and coordination of all police forces in the country, down to the only elected law officers in the land, the county sheriffs. In my home state of Minnesota, the Legislature several years back passed a law that county sheriffs needed to have graduated from cop-shop training centers where they are totally indoctrinated by policestate advocates. This undermines the independence and public accountability of the ONLY elected law officers in the country. To all you nice, well-meaning Minnesota liberals out there: Welcome to the Amerikkkan Police State.

Why are we continually

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 20:13 — Aim (not verified)

Why are we continually surprised by these militaristic actions against free speech?? I think because it has been going on since day one, and we thought maybe we had progressed socially somehow. Unfortunately, not. Just like racism and sexism, we have a long way to go before free speech is really, well, free speech. Right now we are going back to at least 1968. Wow, and its 2008?? 40 years and still no civil progress?? Lets hope Obama wins so at least racism has changed a bit. I suppose you could say the same about McCain and Palin if they win since she is a woman. However, Pelosi being Speaker of the House was historical so I guess you could say there has been some glass broken there. Who would've thought free speech which is one of our most cherish Constitutional rights would be one of the last to change and move forward?

I'm a resident of

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 19:58 — David Maki (not verified)

I'm a resident of Minneapolis. Based on my observations over the past 40 years, it is safe to say the police in both Minneapolis and St. Paul can be counted on to escalate nearly any encounter to the point of violence. Add the adrenaline associated with protecting the RNC and it was a virtual certainty that the police would careen wildly out of control. Once again, I'm ashamed to be an American...

What an absolute disgrace!

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 19:57 — Anonymous (not verified)

What an absolute disgrace! Kiss your protected freedoms goodbye!

I've grown so accustomed to

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 19:54 — David 'Shadow' Velasquez (not verified)

I've grown so accustomed to hearing the MSM's accounts of the abuses of civil liberties in places like Myanmar and Zimbabwe that I had to wonder what it would take for the world media to take note of american abuses. Maybe we're just wussies and our indignation threshold is a bit low. After all, in some countries journalists and demonstrators get taken away, brutalized and either left to languish in prisons or just plain 'disappeared'. But then, we have a standard of civil rights which we're indoctrinated from our childhood to expect. And yet, there was no randomness in the way that the raids on the Food Not Bombs centers were coordinated with the raids on organizing centers for the RNC demonstrators. This is another standard that has dropped...which is our right to assemble and freedom of speech. "Pre emptive arrests for probabable cause to commit riot" is a ficticious excuse; -by that logic anyone could be guilty of conspiracy to commit any crime. In the past the MSM covered these outrages, but as media control become ever increasingly consolidated... they become even more complicitious with the crimes of the state . For me, one of the most eventful and life altering historical events was the DNC in Chicago in 1968. I was only 10 or 11 at the time. The majority of the demonstrators came there with peaceful intent and Mayor Daley of Chicago unleashed the full might of the largely undereducated, politically far right and overwhelmingly racist police. What happened was a bloodbath against mainly nonviolent 20year old college students. It was an event that radicalized most of america's students... it turned me leftward in my thinking and it was the first time that I began to think about radical change or revolution. It shook the american conscience because we all saw it. It wasn't hidden like America's dirty little secret as it is today. It was covered by the press as press members there also got their brains bashed in as well. And by the end of the DNC the chants of the demonstraters changed from 'Stop the War' or 'Out Now!' to 'The Whole World Is Watching!!' to remind those powers that indeed they were being watched...and judged. But it was it another time and another media. And as for the brutality of the police; - yeah, it would seem they're empowered by all the widening of powers and equipment rained upon them by conservative politicians and a complacent paranoid public...so that as they feel a greater freedom, we feel less and less free ...and alone... and isolated. So maybe its time we all come out into the streets? If enough of us do then maybe the MSM press won't be able to avoid it.

America is only getting what

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 19:52 — Anonymous (not verified)

America is only getting what it asked for. We let this happen but not voting in the years leading up to this time, by allowing corporations the power of person-hood, by spending more time with shallowness then education. Its sad to to say, but the best is yet to come. I guess its hard facing the terror my ancestors faced for 400 years. As Malcolm X stated "the chickens are coming home to roust. What is real crazy, everyone is all excited about Barrack Obama. Yet I believe the fix is in. 4 more years of conservative control of this country. White folks in the solitude of the voting machine will not make the change. What, vote a Black man into the office of the president. I don't think so

If that really bothers any

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 19:52 — Anonymous (not verified)

If that really bothers any of you you should do what I do and be an peaceful, but VERY vocal activist full time. Forget good taste when confronted by aggression, but use it always at other times. ZERO TOLERANCE FOR REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES Eradicate the impression that we will be silent and get along. We have tried that.

The question is: Are these

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 19:46 — Anonymous (not verified)

The question is: Are these cops trained by the Gestapo or the KGB?

Hold on to the 4th, everyone

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 19:44 — not afraid (not verified)

Hold on to the 4th, everyone - I'm afraid we're witnessing a burgeoning chapter in the "Patriot Act". Chilling to see photo of Tennessee producer Washington's face moments after being pepper sprayed...and he was merely documenting the protests!

My son, went to bot

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 19:34 — PKK (not verified)

My son, went to bot conventions to do a documentary. Most of the RNC was cancelled last night. So he and his 2 friends deciced to rent bikes and go to a concert. Instead they got arrested! This was AFTER THE PROTESTERS HAD BEEN BROKEN UP AND SUBDUED. They proved they were going to the concert with tickets--but they were fined and arrested for 'unlawful assembly.' Here are links... http://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC-72526 www.kyle.tv Are we a police state now? pkk

The preemptive brutality of

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 19:26 — Mary Ann (not verified)

The preemptive brutality of the RNC Convention is exactly why we need CHANGE. The country has turned into a police state where anyone that disagrees with this administration is subject to harassment, arrest and physical harm. But those who have peddled fear for years are are justifiably afraid. Have you seen pictures of the dangerous conspirators -- children, grandmothers and those vicious vegans? And anarchists on bicycles have got to go! Yes, there is reason for the RNC to be afraid. And the fear will grow when votes are counted and these bums are thrown out to face international war crimes charges. But first can I get the answer to several questions? Where is the media coverage? Where is the outrage? Where is America? Gone the way of the Constitution. I guess I answered my own questions.

Just when I thought that I

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 19:20 — Allan J Krueger (not verified)

Just when I thought that I had heard everything! I guess the protestors haven't heard of "Free Speech Zone." If you are not familiar with the concept, that is where you can demonstrate to your hearts content - no one will see you, but, you may protest all day! Funny, I always thought the entire US was a free speech zone... We have seen the enemy and it is US!

It looks like the

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 19:04 — gerry (not verified)

It looks like the bush-mccain machine has learned much from Pres. Mugabe and other dictators.

Pre-emptive strikes against

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 18:33 — Anonymous (not verified)

Pre-emptive strikes against protest at RNC? Or part of the ongoing battle against civil liberties, the Constitution and The Bill of Rights? An operation against “dissidents” and “anarchists”? Or another chapter in the “Patriot Act”?