Betrayed! FBI Provocateur Sets-Up Anti-RNC Activists on Trumped-Up “Terrorism” Charges

An FBI provocateur and undercover informant, Brandon Michael Darby, unmasked himself December 30 in a bizarre letter to the Independent Media Center (IMC), an activist website and alternative news clearinghouse.

Darby’s admission came after government documents were provided to defense attorneys representing Bradley Crowder and David McKay. The activists were arrested in early September during the Republican National Convention and charged with one count of possession of firearms. They remain in jail awaiting trial.

According to an Associated Press report, the pair allegedly bought supplies for “constructing explosive devices” at a St. Paul Wal-Mart. However, it cannot be ruled out that Darby set these activists up in connivance with his Bureau handlers. It wouldn’t be the first time the FBI has sought to instigate violent confrontations in order to roll-up entire organizations.

With a history of traveling around the country and no visible means of support, by his own admission Darby is a mercenary who wormed his way into left-wing and anarchist groups while proclaiming bogus allegiance to “social justice.” But with the cat out of the bag he candidly stated, “the simple truth is that I have chosen to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Although he claims he has done his best “to act in good conscience” and “to do what I believe to be most helpful to the world,” evidence suggests Darby worked as an informant for a considerable period, infiltrating a multitude of activist groups for the U.S. government.

While hoping his work as a snitch will result “in discussion” between himself and the victims of his spying, the self-serving nature of Darby’s letter reveals the cynical game he played. Betraying his friends, Darby has the temerity to assert that his “job” as an FBI spy was “a good moral way to use my time.”

But hidden behind such inane pieties lurk the tradecraft of a seasoned intelligence asset. And according to documents, including a sworn affidavit by FBI Special Agent Christopher Langert, Darby “carried out a thorough surveillance operation that dated back to at least 18 months before the Republican gathering. He first met Mr. Crowder and Mr. McKay in Austin six months before the convention,” The New York Times reports.

According to a statement by the Austin Informant Working Group,

Darby has been characterized by many people who have known and worked with him as both persuasive and manipulative, with a history of provocation, instigation, and incitement. According to Lisa Fithian, who worked with Darby for years, “Brandon was always provoking discord and aggression, in the anti-war movement in Austin in 2003, in protests in Houston against Halliburton, and in disaster relief at Common Ground in New Orleans. I worked with Darby in all of those places and saw the disruption he caused.”

The FBI documents make it clear that Darby did not restrict his informing to people he alleges were planning illegal activities. He also gathered information on numerous people who were engaged in lawful activism; including some who had no plans to attend the Republican Convention. “The wider net cast by Darby in his information gathering shows that he was part of an FBI campaign to suppress political dissent and activism,” said Will Potter, an award-winning independent journalist. “By gathering information on law abiding activists and then defending his actions as stopping violence, Darby contributes to the public perception that political dissent is criminal, which has a chilling effect on free speech.” (“Austin RNC Informant Brandon Darby is Provocateur Not Hero,” Austin Informant Working Group, January 6, 2009)

In addition to casting an electronic surveillance driftnet over anti-RNC organizers, the Bureau relied on what they euphemistically term “confidential human sources” to do the dirty work. According to the Times, though Darby refused to provide details about his “undercover activities,” he confirmed that “he had also worked as an informant in cases not involving the convention.” The Times reports,

Mr. Darby provided descriptions of meetings with the defendants and dozens of other people in Austin, Minneapolis and St. Paul. He wore recording devices at times, including a transmitter embedded in his belt during the convention. He also went to Minnesota with Mr. Crowder four months before the Republican gathering and gave detailed narratives to law enforcement authorities of several meetings they had with activists from New York, San Francisco, Montana and other places. (Colin Moynihan, “Activist Unmasks Himself as Federal Informant in G.O.P. Convention Case,” The New York Times, January 5, 2009)

FBI spokesperson E. K. Wilson told the Times, “as a matter of policy, we’re not going to confirm or deny the identity of anybody who gives us information confidentially.”

As Antifascist Calling previously reported, citing a leaked planning document published by the whistleblowing website Wikileaks, the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management agency (HSEM) closely coordinated with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in the run up to the Republican National Convention.

The 31-page document, “Special Event Planning: Republican National Convention,” is a dense schematic used by repressors to plan their response to protests. Along with local police and the FBI, agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), the United States Secret Service and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) coordinated an action plan to squelch dissent, preemptively arresting activists and journalists, seizing cameras, recording equipment, computers and reporters’ confidential notes.

In addition to Crowder and McKay (the “Texas Two”), eight activists associated with the RNC Welcoming Committee now face serious felony charges resulting from preemptive state repression prior to the Convention.

According to the Friends of the RNC 8, protest organizers were charged with “conspiracy to riot in the 2nd degree in the furtherance of terrorism.” Three additional felony charges were added in mid-December, according to a letter to defense attorneys from the Ramsey County District Attorney’s office. Pre-trial motions in their case will be heard January 26.

Apparently, Darby’s “relationship” with the FBI went back several years. After Hurricane Katrina he surfaced in New Orleans and worked with Common Ground Relief, a grassroots organization founded by former Black Panther Party member and current Green Party activist Malik Rahim to aid hurricane victims criminally abandoned by federal, state and local authorities as New Orleans drowned.

While Brownie may of been doing “a heck of a job” before being sacked by DHS head honcho Michael Chertoff, Common Ground Relief was one of the few organizations that actually provided help to flood victims. That they did so without benefit of plum federal contracts handed to Bush cronies, including armed mercenaries from Blackwater Worldwide, drew the ire of local elites–and the police.

On several occasions, Common Ground was the target of repressive maneuvers by the New Orleans Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security. In one documented incident in November 2005, an activist outside the free medical clinic the group created, was arrested and tossed into the back of a squad car. While handcuffed, he was threatened by police who told him he “would be shot, and his body tossed into the river,” according to an eyewitness report posted on the Portland IMC website.

One cannot rule out that repeated threats and harassment against Common Ground workers weren’t instigated by FBI point-man Brandon Darby. Indeed, he had embedded himself so well into the fabric of the organization that he is cited on the group’s website as a founding member. The Bureau snitch acted as a spokesperson and even appeared on PBS’ “The Tavis Smiley Show.”

Scott Crow, a co-founder of Common Ground Relief, had defended Darby publicly when charges against him first surfaced and warned against “rumors, conjecture and innuendo.” He told the Times, “I put it all on the line to defend him when accusations first came out. Brandon Darby is somebody I had entrusted with my life in New Orleans, and now I feel endangered by him.”

With good reason.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that documents linking the Maryland State Police to widespread spying on activists, in concert with federal agencies that included the National Security Agency and FBI “was far more extensive than previously acknowledged, with records showing that troopers monitored–and labeled as terrorists–activists devoted to such wide-ranging causes as promoting human rights and establishing bike lanes.”

Such reports began to surface in 2005 when it was revealed that the Pentagon’s now defunct Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), illegally spied on antiwar and other activist groups at the behest of their political masters at the Defense Department. Some 90% of former CIFA employees, as I reported in April, were drawn from 30 defense and security firms that have profited handsomely from the burgeoning “Homeland Security” market.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Bush administration and Congress–with Democrats and Republicans marching in lockstep–have pursued repressive policies that resulted in ubiquitous domestic surveillance under the rubric of Washington’s endless “war on terror.” While deep cover intelligence assets such as Darby are beneath contempt, they are symptoms of wider, and more troubling, antidemocratic trends in the U.S.

As the economy continues to meltdown, the incoming Obama administration seeks to widen imperial wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond, including the current Israeli slaughter in Gaza which Washington fully supports. Under conditions of systemic crisis, the ruling capitalist elite will continue to rely on dictatorial police state methods–fear, repression and intimidation–as a first resort.

Above all else, the case of Brandon Darby is a cautionary tale for activists everywhere and confirmation of the old adage: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His articles are published in many venues. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press. Read other articles by Tom, or visit Tom's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. The Angry Peasant said on January 8th, 2009 at 11:58am #

    They should shoot this Darby son of a bitch right in the head. These activist group infiltrators and undercover agents are the most loathsome pieces of shit to walk the Earth, preying on people who are the farthest thing from criminals. Talk about agents of the owner class. Infuriating! These bastards are traitors, pure and simple. Taking the easy route to financial betterment by selling out and endangering justice-minded people.

    At least we can learn from this. If ever you’re in an activist group and one member starts suggesting planting a bomb in City Hall, throw the impostor out on his ass.

  2. lichen said on January 8th, 2009 at 1:09pm #

    I agree, TAP. I saw the segment about this on democracy now yesterday, and it really pissed me off; this stupid fucking scumbag dares to even pretend that he was on some noble mission, working for a genocidal, corrupt imperial government to quell dissent and social upheaval against them.

  3. Pete V said on January 8th, 2009 at 1:49pm #

    This is a shoddy portrait of repressive actions by the ruling class.

    Mostly insinuation and conjecture, what exactly did this guy/his handlers do?

    I’m not contesting the existance of repressive policies by the powers-that-be. That being said, here’s another example of flimsy rhetoric employed as an excuse to slather an anecdote with pat verses about imperialism and the ruling capital elite.

  4. Ron Horn said on January 8th, 2009 at 1:51pm #

    Identifying and coping with agent provocateurs and informers is a major weapon of the owning class used against the disowned, the rest of us whose wealth and livelyhoods have been stolen. Another major strategy to defeat us is “divide and rule”, sowing dissension among us to get us to fight each other. Both strategies are powerful and difficult to deal with. It behooves all of us to study their methods and to divise methods of coping with them.

  5. The Angry Peasant said on January 8th, 2009 at 9:04pm #

    Pete V,
    What are you talking about? The article states pretty damn clearly what this putrid bastard did. We arn’t calling for his skin based on conjecture, here. And if you at all believe the imperialist ruling class ought not to be lashed out at, then piss up rope, Senator!

  6. kalidas said on January 9th, 2009 at 12:33pm #

    Maybe he’s bucking for a promotion. You know, something like shooting rockets into empty parking lots in Israel.