Why did the FBI consider a movement composed of students, senior citizens, mothers with baby carriages and Americans of all colors and backgrounds such a threat that they required covert monitoring?
During the heyday of the Occupy Movement last year, if you were lucky enough to walk through one of the encampments – as I was frequently here at Occupy DC – you would have seen a community built as an example of what our nation should be striving for.
You would have seen health care provided for free – no for-profit health insurance leeches looking to squeeze as much money as they can out of a family caring for a sick child.
You also would have seen education provided for free. You would have seen healthy food provided for free. You would have seen shelter provided for free. When it came to the basic essentials, the for-profit motive was not allowed within the confines of Occupy.
And in a nation facing economic desperation, historic levels of wealth inequality and a rapidly disappearing social safety net, Occupy was the way forward – a community in every city that could serve as an example of what we as Americans should be striving for during a time when Wall Street suits were choking the lives out of most Americans.
But if you were an FBI agent, then Occupy looked like something completely different. To the FBI, Occupy was a breeding ground for violence and domestic terrorism.
Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, we now know that the Occupy Movement was a favorite target of the FBI even before the movement got off the ground. Going all the way back to August 2011, a month before the encampment of Zuccotti Park began, the FBI in New York was notifying bankers and business owners of a pending threat against them, even though from its inception Occupy has always been a peaceful movement aimed at bringing about political and social change.
But this early threat warning was just the beginning.
In 112 heavily redacted pages handed over by the FBI, we can start to piece together a massive surveillance operation conducted against the Occupy movement and it’s participants by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security working with local law enforcement for the protection of corporate America.
And it wasn’t just on Wall Street. Occupy encampments in Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Memphis, Richmond, Jacksonville, and even Anchorage, Alaska were put under watch and described in internal memos as potential “domestic terror” threats.
And there’s still a whole heck of a lot we don’t know about the FBI’s activities in regard to Occupy. The documents are awash in redactions, which raises even more concerns about just how extensive the monitoring of this peaceful political movement really was – or even how illegal it was.
Why did the FBI consider a movement composed of students, senior citizens, mothers with baby carriages and Americans of all colors and backgrounds such a threat? Especially when time and time again confronted by police brutality, occupiers didn’t fight back or abandon their commitment to non-violent resistance. They sat there, peacefully, taking a dousing of pepper spray to the face, or a nightstick to the stomach, or, in the case of Marine vet Scott Olsen, a tear gas canister to the skull.
What was the FBI so afraid of?
We know why corporate America was afraid. They knew that decades of sucking wealth out of the American middle class, which finally culminated in one of the biggest thefts in human history during the financial collapse of 2008, had finally pushed the nation to a breaking point. The backlash was underway, and the profiteers who had been sitting pretty collecting their tolls for health care, education and housing thought the game might finally be up. Corporate America had good reason to be afraid as hundreds of billions of dollars in profits were at stake if Occupy was successful and things like free, universal health care and education were suddenly afforded to everyone.
But again, why was the FBI, which has no skin in the game in the battle for free health care, so concerned about Occupy?
To me, this is what’s most disturbing about all of this. We are once again witnessing in America a clash between organized people and organized money. It’s another one of those turning points in American history where we decide to move forward as a nation and embrace great equality and economic opportunity – or we regress backward toward neo-feudalism and xenophobia.
And unfortunately, at a time when we need our elected representatives and agents of our democratic government to be on our side to secure progress, they chose to be on the wrong side of history. They sided with organized money over organized people. They sided with the bankers and not the foreclosed on. They sided with the health insurance executives and not the sick.
It’s reminiscent of another turning point in the 1960s, when the FBI, at the behest of Robert Kennedy, targeted the living embodiment of peaceful social change, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., tracking his every move and recording his every phone call. Back then the fear wasn’t Dr. King’s connections to terrorism, but instead his connections to communism. Needless to say, the FBI surveillance turned up not a single connection between Dr. King and the commies.
We know today, that Dr. King, the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam antiwar movement were on the right side of history and our government, headed up by paranoids like Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover, were on the wrong side of history. But these lessons have not been learned.
And so here we are again today at an inflection point in American history. And again, our FBI and government, by labeling Occupy a threat, have staked out a position on the wrong side of history, which makes the work that we organized people have left to do so much more difficult.
We’re not just up against corporate America; we’re up against the corporatocracy, too.