Setting the record straight: FBI surveillance and Iowa City

From The Daily Iowan

We speak as some former members of an anarchist group from Iowa City no longer in existence, Wild Rose Rebellion. Recently, the Des Moines Register came out with a story detailing the FBI’s extensive surveillance while we planned attendance at the protest at the 2008 Republican National Convention. It has become obvious to us that there are a lot of misconceptions floating around, so we thought you might like to hear our take on the issue.

From the Palmer Raids and the Red Scare of the 20th century to the prosecution of animal-rights activists and protest organizers of today, our history is full of stories about civil-rights leaders, union organizers, and activists of all stripes being under surveillance — and often prosecuted — by the federal government. We were not surprised this happened to us. From our very first meeting, we shared stories about what had happened to those who protested at the conventions of 2004 and what we could expect to encounter.

Eight organizers of the 2008 Republican National Convention protests from Minneapolis-St. Paul were initially charged with “conspiracy to commit riot in furtherance of terrorism.” Four still face trial, including for “conspiracy to riot” — historically, a charge brought when nothing else exists to prosecute organizers.

The extensive surveillance and infiltration of their above-ground work by federal authorities was one part of the same effort used against us here in Iowa City. The documents released also show that authorities attempted to connect our organizing work to animal- and environmental-liberation activities, something authorities have been criminalizing to a greater degree in recent years — the “Green Scare,” as some have labeled it. We condemn this repression and declare our solidarity with those under such persecution.

Like many involved in work for social transformation, we are working-class people with rather limited resources. Not everyone involved in the planning could actually go to the convention, but they helped as they could with such items as gas money and helping get the word out. The idea of facing serious federal charges for protest activity is certainly a scary one.

However, the problem for us is not that the authorities went through our trash and watched us walk from our meetings at the library to a restaurant, bar, or grocery store. The real problem is that this seems intended to intimidate people from getting involved in such work.

Whether you think it was a good idea for the FBI to kept an eye on us just in case we were “dangerous extremists” or you are outraged at the waste of taxpayer money and intrusion on our rights, the bottom line is that you should know this goes on. You should know what the FBI is doing and the effect that it has on dissent. You should know what we are doing and why. That message seems lost in the controversy.

Besides the protest activity in question, members of our group worked on a number of issues, from supporting a union picket of Wells Fargo Bank to putting on a benefit for those affected by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids here in Iowa. We also confronted neo-Nazis in Des Moines and helped organize a community garden in Iowa City.

Simply put, we are for directly democratic and self-organized social movements, and we continue to be involved in such projects.

Iowa: 2008 FBI Documents made public

WRRDavid Goodner, a former member of the University of Iowa’s Antiwar Committee, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for files associated with an FBI surveillance of groups in Iowa City prior to the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. What he discovered was the investigation was far more extensive than previously known.

Now, Goodner has turned over the files he received from the FBI exclusively to The Iowa Independent for publication.

As the documents show, the investigation into activities of peace groups in Iowa City involved staking out homes, secretly photographing and video taping members, digging through garbage and even planting a mole to spy on the peace activists up close. Known as the Wild Rose Rebellion, the protesters were described by the FBI as an “anarchist collective.” In an interview with The Des Moines Register, the FBI defended its actions.

Full story and documents are available here.

FBI Spied Extensively on Anti-War Activists in Iowa

Iowa activists drew extensive FBI scrutiny

By WILLIAM PETROSKI
bpetroski@dmreg.com
September 20, 2010

The FBI’s surveillance of a protest group in Iowa City prior to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., two years ago was far more extensive than initially reported, newly obtained FBI documents show.

Agents staked out the homes of political activists, secretly photographed and shot video of them, pored through their garbage, and studied their cell phone and motor vehicle records, according to records detailing the FBI’s counterterrorism investigation.

Federal agents and other law enforcement officers also watched and documented the protesters’ comings and goings at such places as the Iowa City Public Library; the New Pioneer Co-op natural foods store; the Red Avocado restaurant and the Deadwood Tavern; and the Wesley Center campus ministry of the United Methodist Church.

The FBI’s nine-month investigation in 2008 is detailed in more than 300 pages of documents obtained through the federal Freedom of Information Act by David Goodner, a former member of the University of Iowa’s Antiwar Committee, and provided to The Des Moines Register.

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