Even before the convention started, dozens of assault-rifle-wielding swat teams burst into houses where protesters were housing themselves with local friends, handcuffed them and had them lay on the floor, while they took away computers, laptops, journals, literature, and in some cases, arrested people. The charges which came from this included “conspiracy to commit riot” which, at best, is probably unconstitutional (and as such, one lawyer, Bruce Nestor, the President of the Minnesota Lawyer’s Guild, put it, is hardly used). Here is the initial report of these raids, including a video of that Nestor explaining the conspiracy charge, on Glenn’s blog.
Several of those who were arrested are being represented by Bruce Nestor, the President of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild. Nestor said that last night’s raid involved a meeting of a group calling itself the “RNC Welcoming Committee”, and that this morning’s raids appeared to target members of “Food Not Bombs,” which he described as an anti-war, anti-authoritarian protest group. There was not a single act of violence or illegality that has taken place, Nestor said. Instead, the raids were purely anticipatory in nature, and clearly designed to frighten people contemplating taking part in any unauthorized protests.
Nestor indicated that only 2 or 3 of the 50 individuals who were handcuffed this morning at the 2 houses were actually arrested and charged with a crime, and the crime they were charged with is “conspiracy to commit riot.” Nestor, who has practiced law in Minnesota for many years, said that he had never before heard of that statute being used for anything, and that its parameters are so self-evidently vague, designed to allow pre-emeptive arrests of those who are peacefully protesting, that it is almost certainly unconstitutional, though because it had never been invoked (until now), its constitutionality had not been tested.
I know people who ran a local chapter of Food Not Bombs. They are the antithesis of dangerous people. They spend their time scrounging food for homeless people, for crissakes.
Glenn’s second post details the proof that there is Federal involvement in the raids, as well as infiltration of groups (shades of Vietnam, anyone?):
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. There seems to be little doubt that it was this domestic spying by the Federal Government that led to the excessive and truly despicable home assaults by the police yesterday.
This entire thing smacks of police intimidation, in the manner of the graphic-novel-turned-movie, V for Vendetta. In V, the ruling party (called Norsefire, or just “The Party”) arrest a TV producer for merely making fun of the High Chancellor in a satirical broadcast skit. They invade his home with overwhelming force. The act of free speech is a liability to the rule of The Party. And everything they do is in the name of security and fear of chaos, terrorism, and disease.
Media, including Amy Goodman and two of her producers of Democracy Now! as well as an AP photographer, and other reporters, have also been arrested or detained. In the same post talking about the FBI involvement, Greenwald posts:
Heres is the extraordinary blog item I linked to yesterday from Eileen Clancy, one of the founders of I-Witness Video — a NYC-based video collective which is in St. Paul to document the policing of the protests around this week’s Republican National Convention, just as they did at the 2004 GOP Convention in New York. Clancy wrote this as a plea for help, as the Police surrounded her house and (before they had a search warrant) told everyone inside that they’d be arrested if they exited the home:
This is Eileen Clancy . . . The house where I-Witness Video is staying in St. Paul has been surrounded by police. We have locked all the doors. We have been told that if we leave we will be detained. One of our people who was caught outside is being detained in handcuffs in front of the house. The police say that they are waiting to get a search warrant. More than a dozen police are wielding firearms, including one St. Paul officer with a long gun, which someone told me is an M-16.
We are suffering a preemptive video arrest. For those that don’t know, I-Witness Video was remarkably successful in exposing police misconduct and outright perjury by police during the 2004 RNC. Out of 1800 arrests, at least 400 were overturned based solely on video evidence which contradicted sworn statements which were fabricated by police officers. It seems that the house arrest we are now under and the possible threat of the seizure of our computers and video cameras is a result of the 2004 success.
We are asking the public to contact the office of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman at 651-266-8510 to stop this house arrest, this gross intimidation by police officers, and the detention of media activists and reporters.
In his last post on this issue (the first I linked to above), Glenn writes:
UPDATE IV: The Washington Post has a few more details on the arrest of Goodman and the two Democracy Now producers. In addition to them, a photographer for Associated Press was also arrested today while covering the protests (h/t Edward Champion). An AP spokesman said of the arrest: “covering news is constitutionally protected, and photographers should not be detained for covering breaking news.” Democratic strategist and CNN commentator Donna Brazile was hit by pepper spray on her way into the Xcel Center.
Donna Brazile was hit with pepper spray. Amy Goodman, arrested.
It is obvious that this goes far beyond practical security. This set of actions by local and federal law enforcement includes unconstitutional spying, preemptive disruption of free speech and freedom of the press, and brutal and excessive use of force during the last several days. The streets of St. Paul look more like Alan Moore’s graphic world of fascist England than the site of a US political party’s convention. The levels of vandalism have been overwhelmingly exaggerated (thousands of peaceful protesters versus about 60 anarchists who broke windows).
This, as opposed to pepper-spraying whole crowds of peaceful, obeying protesters and brutal treatment of people detained. Eight protesters are being charged with terrorism, based on the evidence, apparently, of paid infiltrators and provocateurs.
We live in a world less far removed from the country of Norsefire than you can possibly imagine. And the media, even the liberal blogs, cannot find even much of an inch to report on this instead of the layers of stories floating on the surface of this incredible violation of our core rights and beliefs as Americans.