Monday, September 1, 2008

U.S. Unfolds Gestapo-like Raids at GOP Convention

Amy Goodman reported from the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul), site of the Republican National Convention, September 1, 2008, Labor Day:
Armed groups of police in the Twin Cities have raided more than a half-a-dozen locations since Friday night in a series of preemptive raids before the Republican convention. The coordinated searches were led by Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher but conducted in coordination with federal agencies....
Minnesota Public Radio is reporting that the FBI is at least one of the "federal agencies" acting in concert with the Minneapolis/St. Paul police departments. A professor at the University of Minnesota has snapped a photo of FBI presence at one of the raids. Many of these police gestapo actions involved two dozen or more riot police entering private homes with guns drawn, handcuffing the residents, and rifling through the house to search computers, and political literature.

Amy Goodman's article continues:
The raids and detentions have targeted activists planning to protest the Republican National Convention, as well as journalists and videographers documenting police actions at protests. Groups directly affected by the raids include Food Not Bombs, the RNC Welcoming Committee, I-Witness Video and Communities United Against Police Brutality.
By late afternoon, Goodman herself was under arrest in St. Paul, and reports were coming in that rubber bullets and tear gas were being used on a crowd at the SEIU Take Back Labor Day concert. The victims are said to include women and children. Meanwhile, a number of those arrested preemptively remain in jail. Bruce Nestor Nestor from the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild explains how the preventative detentions were organized:
The raids were carried out by [Ramsey County] Sheriff Bob Fletcher, who had been arguing for months that there needed to be a stronger law enforcement response, and he was being told that wasn’t necessary. And so, he sent his officers in, after doing intelligence gathering and infiltrating these groups.

And then, really what he did is he took common household items that you would find in any home in Minnesota—a hatchet, rope, glass bottles and rags—attached the label “anarchist” to the people who are living in the homes, and then raise this public fear that the anarchists were threatening violence, public disorder. But really, it’s taking a common household item, something you’d find anywhere, calling it an edged weapon and then attacking people for their political beliefs, that then is used to generate this public fear and keep activists detained...
Both the National Lawyers Guild and Communities United Against Police Brutality have filed a motion with Judge Mark Wernick asking for "injunctive relief to prevent police from seizing video equipment and cellular phones used to document their conduct.”

Domestic Spying is a Danger to Democracy

Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald has detailed the role of domestic spying and the use of informants in the run up to the police assaults on demonstrators' homes:
Today's Star Tribune added that the raids were specifically "aided by informants planted in protest groups." Back in May, Marcy Wheeler presciently noted that the Minneapolis Joint Terrorist Task Force -- an inter-agency group of federal, state and local law enforcement led by the FBI -- was actively recruiting Minneapolis residents to serve as plants, to infiltrate "vegan groups" and other left-wing activist groups and report back to the Task Force about what they were doing....

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. And as extraordinary as that conduct is, more extraordinary is the fact that they have received virtually no attention from the national media and little outcry from anyone.
The police actions in the Twin Cities follow the penning of protesters in Denver at the Democratic Party convention, and the resulting mass arrests and pepper spraying of demonstrators there. From Indymedia:
As the Democratic Party listened to speeches inside the Pepsi Center on the opening day of the convention, a few hundred protesters had gathered to march. The police arrived in riot gear, surrounded the protesters, blocking them in and firing pepper spray into the crowd. Some protesters tried to flee across the park, but they were met by dozens of police officers who boxed them in there, and nearly a hundred people were arrested.
The Denver police actions targeted not only leftists and other anti-capitalist protesters, but included ABC producer Asa Eslocker, seized for, as the Glenn Garvin at the Miami-Herald put it, "the crime of taking pictures of big-ticket Democratic Party donors."
Eslocker's camera crew was on a sidewalk outside Denver's Brown Palace Hotel, shooting video for a series of reports on the role of corporate lobbyists and wealthy donors at the convention to air on ABC World News. The hotel told Eslocker to beat it; when he didn't, the cops handcuffed and hauled him off to the slam where he was charged with trespass, interference, and failure to follow a lawful order -- taking pictures of rich plutocrats evidently being against the law in Denver.
From Infomercial to Police State

The preemptive attacks against organizers of protests is a new tactic by the FBI and its police lackeys, upping what was already a serious escalation of repressive measures against lawful protest and demonstration. To put it plainly, they are, as Glenn Greenwald noted, "redolent of the worst tactics of a police state."

I would put it even more finely, they are the actions of a police state in ovo, or in its embryonic, beginning stages. This implies that such actions are not an aberration, but the initiation of sharper era of government repression. The St. Paul raids, as the arrests at the Democratic Convention in Denver, were meant to spike any large scale demonstrations against the two political parties that brought the world a war in Iraq that has killed over 600,000 Iraqis, over 4,000 U.S. dead, and over two million refugees.

One wonders if the raids aren't only meant to quell political protest, but also hide the fact that these giant, expensive party conventions are nothing more now than ersatz infomercials for the two political parties. The mini-drama over the roll call vote for the Democratic presidential nomination -- whether it would include the votes for Hillary Clinton, or not -- played out on the canvas of profound national historical ignorance.

Before 1980, most national conventions featured some kind of battle over a party's nomination, including a roll call of votes. Today, a banal totalitarianism of schmaltzy theme music and branded nominee roll out has replaced the rough-and-tumble of an earlier day of U.S. national party politics. But this is a banality backed by the policeman's truncheon and the informer's sinister ratting out. It is not banality, but the image of blandness in service of a deadly reality.

The reality behind the conventions is revealed in the white phosphorus-torched bodies of Fallujah, the tortured ghost prisoners of Baghram and Abu Ghraib, the now walled-off neighborhoods of Baghdad, and the decaying superstructure of America proper.

It is also revealed by the choice for GOP Vice Presidential nominee, Sarah Palin. With nothing to recommend her but her far-right wing credentials -- she opposes abortion for the raped or the victim of incest, she advocates teaching creationism, and, of course, she is for oil drilling in the disputed ANWAR territory in Alaska (while opposing federal protections for polar bears). The Palin nomination clearly shows it doesn't matter who is president, as the ruling powers in Langley, at the Pentagon, and at the board tables of America's energy, finance, and war-making industries, call the shots in the former land of the free.

A small crew of would-be protesters planning not insurrection, but to march with signs and chants against war, globalization, or whatever issue they felt important, were too threatening to the potentates running the United States, so they would have to be tear gassed, pepper gassed, penned in, rounded up and arrested, and finally, their homes invaded to prevent any protest from even taking place.

The simulacrum of democracy in America is now as fragile as the make-up on an aging dowager's face. Even a smile of irony could break the mask of placid self-assurance and smugness that has settled upon U.S. politics. Hundreds arrested at the conventions, and no protest from Barack Obama, or from supposed left-wing Democrats like Kucinich. To hope a Republican politician would speak up would be to invoke a science fiction world.

Hope Talk, War Talk

The war talk about Georgia and Russia, with its manifold lies and posturing, almost guarantees that aggressive U.S. foreign policy will continue, as Obama talks about escalating the Afghan war, and meanwhile, Cheney readies another trip to new NATO would-be vassal states, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine. The "war on terror" means a war on political dissent at home.

A lot of people are putting hope in the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama. It is clear that he is not simply a man to be manipulated, as was George W. Bush, or his purported successor, John McCain (and his new running mate, Palin). But everything so far points to a Obama presidency that would try and effect some reforms at home, while engaging U.S. allies abroad to support the American imperial impulse abroad. The more aggressive the latter campaign, the more important quelling protest at home will become. Of course, the ruling powers would prefer a compliant puppet from the GOP ticket, but some within those same ruling circles would prefer someone smart, who has his or her pulse on the population, who wouldn't let the hubris of the rich and powerful go unchecked, and hurdle the U.S. down a reckless road. That's a good way to lose power, as French historians well know.

Those famous clips showing the police riot at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 -- in a city and state run by Democrats, during the presidential administration of yet another Democrat, Lyndon Johnson -- demonstrate that state repression is not the monopoly of one party alone.

All must demand the freeing of those arrested in Denver and St. Paul, and an immediate investigation into who ordered the police abuse.

UPDATE, 9:45pm:

The Washington Post is reporting that after three hours in policy custody Amy Goodman was charged with a misdemeanor and released. Her two Democracy Now! producers, Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, are still being held. Both are said to have been injured. Goodman is quoted:
"I was down on the convention floor interviewing delegates when I heard that two of our producers had been arrested," said Goodman. "I ran down to Jackson and 7th Street, where the police had moved in"....

"They seriously manhandled me and handcuffed my hands behind my back. The top ID [at the convention] is to get on the floor and the Secret Service ripped that off me. I had my Democracy Now! ID too. I was clearly a reporter."
Democracy Now has published the following appeal, evidently prior to Goodman's release:
Ramsey County Sherrif Bob Fletcher told Democracy Now! that Kouddous and Salazar were being arrested on suspicion of rioting. They are currently being held at the Ramsey County jail in St. Paul.

Democracy Now! is calling on all journalists and concerned citizens to call the office of Mayor Chris Coleman and the Ramsey County Jail and demand the immediate release of Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar. These calls can be directed to: Chris Rider from Mayor Coleman's office at 651-266-8535 and the Ramsey County Jail at 651-266-9350 (press extension 0).
H/T to Jessical and feline at Docudharma.

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