Right in the nick of time, just like in the movies. The authorities couldn’t have more effectively made the Occupy movement look like a danger to the republic if they had scripted it. Maybe that’s because, more or less, they did.
The guy who convinced the plotters to blow up a big bridge, led them to the arms merchant, and drove the team to the bomb site was an FBI informant. The merchant was an FBI agent. The bomb, of course, was a dud. And the arrest was part of a pattern of entrapment by federal law enforcement since September 11, 2001, not of terrorist suspects, but of young men federal agents have had to talk into embracing violence in the first place. One of the Cleveland arrestees, Connor Stevens, complained to his sister of feeling “very pressured” by the guy who turned out to be an informant and was recorded in 2011 rejecting property destruction: “We’re in it for the long haul and those kind of tactics just don’t cut it,” he said. “And it’s actually harder to be non-violent than it is to do stuff like that.” Though when Cleveland’s NEWS Channel 5 broadcast that footage, they headlined it “Accused Bomb Plot Suspect Caught on Camera Talking Violence.”
In all these law enforcement schemes the alleged terrorists masterminds end up seeming, when the full story comes out, unable to terrorize their way out of a paper bag without law enforcement tutelage. (“They teach you how to make all this stuff out of simple household items,” one of the kids says on a recording quoted in the FBI affidavit about a book he has just discovered, The Anarchist Cookbook. Someone asks him how much it says explosives cost. “I’m not sure,” he responds, “I just downloaded it last night.”) It’s a perfect example of how post-9/11 fear made law enforcement tactics seem acceptable that were previously beyond the pale. Previously, however, the targets have been Muslims; now they’re white kids from Ohio. And maybe you could argue that this is acceptable, if the feds were actually acting out of a good-faith assessment of what threats are imminent and which are not. But that’s not what they’re doing at all. Instead, they are arrogating to themselves a downright Orwellian power – the power to deploy the might of the State to shape a fundamental narrative about which ideas Americans must be most scared of, and which ones they should not fear much at all, independent of the relative objective dangerousness of the people who hold those ideas.
To see how, travel with me to rural Florida, and another arrest that occurred at almost exactly the same time. On April 28, members of American Front, a white-supremacist group labeled “a known terrorist organization” in the affidavit justifying the arrest, took a break from training with machine guns for a race war in order to fashion weapons out of fake “Occupy” signs which they planned to use to assault May Day protesters in Melbourne, Florida. No script, no choreography for maximal impact on sensation-hungry news broadcasts, no melodramatic press conference with a U.S. attorney and FBI Special Agent in Charge; this arrest only went down after an informant working with state law enforcement fled in fear for his or her life after being threatened by the group’s leader Marcus Faella with a 9mm pistol. And though the media reported the involvement of a “joint terrorism task force of FBI and local law enforcement” the arresting affidavit does not even mention federal law enforcement; the charges filed were state, not federal. A circuit court judge scrawled a bail amount of $51,250; that was accidentally knocked down to $500. The Cleveland anarchists were held without bond.
Who else are we supposed to be afraid of? Certainly animal-rights and environmental radicals. In 2006, when FBI Director Robert Mueller announced the indictments of Animal Liberal Front activists who burned down a horse-rendering plant in 1997, harming no humans, he called such property destruction one of the agency’s “highest domestic terrorism priorities.” We’re supposed to be afraid of Muslims, of course – though not even necessarily Muslim militants. In a sting stunningly anatomized on a Pulitzer-worthy This American Life episode from 2005 the target, British citizen Hemant Lakhami, known as “Habib,” was an Indian-born Willy Loman, so dumb he referred to night-vision goggles, which he’d never heard of, as “sunglasses” and so broken down and desperate for attention he told the federal informant he had full-sized submarines to sell. He was egged by the informant into selling him Stinger missiles (Lakhami had approached him hoping to sell him mangoes). Upon Lakhami’s terrorism conviction then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie stepped up to the press conference microphones to announce, “Today is a triumph for the Justice Department in the war against terror. I don’t know that anyone can say that the state of New Jersey, and this country, is not a safer place without Hemant Lakhani trotting around the globe attempting to broker arms deals.”
But don’t worry your pretty little heads over the epidemic of far-right insurrectionism that followed the election of Barack Obama: all told, according to a forthcoming data analysis by Neiwert, there have been 55 cases of right-wing extremists being arrested for plotting or committing alleged terrorists acts compared to 26 by Islamic militants during the same period. The right-wing plots include the bombing of a 2011 Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane and the assassination of abortion doctor George Tiller in 2009. Neither of their perpetrators, it goes without saying, had been arrested before they attempted their vile acts; neither required law enforcement entrapment to conceive and carry them out. It’s just too bad for their victims they did not fit the story federal law enforcement seeks to tell.
I use the word “story” advisedly. Entrapment is the most literary of abuses of power: Investigators and prosecutors become as unto little Stephen Kings, feeding into, and feeding, the fear centers of our lizard brains in order to manipulate their audience. Unsurprisingly, the tactic crops up whenever the powers that be are themselves most frightened for their power, such as during the 1960s, when instigation of criminal acts by agents provacateursinfiltrating the anti-war movement became extremely prevalent. When one of the accused Chicago 7 left the courtroom just as a witness for the prosecution left the stand, the other six became horrified when it became clear that the guy who had just got up (actually to go to the bathroom) was a plant about to testify against them.
The antiwar movement soon learned whom to be afraid of: people who don’t quite fit in, who always seemed ready to volunteer for anything (if you’re on the FBI payroll, you don’t need a job), people pressing violence when everyone else in the room preferred peace. In the 1972 “Camden 28″ trial of Catholic left conspirators who tried to steal and destroy registration records from a local draft board, the star witness got his breaking-and-entering training from the FBI and swore in court that the accused never would have raided the building absent his leadership. Although the people the FBI preferred to recruit were the sort who had trouble keeping jobs anyway. They were frequently mentally unstable: the agent provocateur whose recordings got twenty-three members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War indicted for supposedly conspiring to attack the 1972 Republican National Convention with “lead weights, ‘fried’ marbles, ball bearings, cherry bombs … wrist rockets, slingshots, and cross bows” had received a psychological discharge from the Army. And they were usually criminals. In the Harrisburg 7 trial of in 1972 (in which the feds fantastically claimed that a pacifist priest, some nuns, and their confreres intended to blow up the steam tunnels beneath Washington, D.C.) the prosecution’s star witness had offered himself to the FBI as an undercover New Lefty from the jail cell where he was serving time for so many crimes the U.S. Attorney had classified him as a “menace to society.”
Read more, from rolling stone: How FBI Entrapment Is Inventing ‘Terrorists’ – and Letting Bad Guys Off the Hook