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Exposed: Undercover Agents at Occupy Austin Entrapped Protesters, Endangered Activists

How far should the police go for a conviction?

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The judge, Joan Campbell, ordered the prosecution to recover all relevant emails from the police department’s technology department and subpoena the phone companies for Dowell’s texts. Judge Campbell also threatened that the case will be thrown out if the other two undercovers are not named at the upcoming hearing on September 5, and suggested that the prosecution might rather drop the charges than expose the identities of two of their undercover detectives still embedded in the Occupy Austin community. The trial is set to begin on September 17, the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street.

The Houston case is not the first time police entrapment has led to felony charges being levied against Occupy protesters. In Cleveland, five men were arrested on May 1, 2012, in connection with a plot to allegedly blow up a bridge in the early morning hours before the May Day protests scheduled in Cleveland. It later emerged that a federal agent working undercover at Occupy Cleveland had encouraged violent escalation among young male activists, and even arranged for the purchase of the fake explosives the five activists allegedly attempted to detonate. Similarly, two undercover Chicago police detectives allegedly encouraged Occupy activists to engage in a terror plot against the NATO summit, and when they failed to do so, planted materials in an apartment. Four Chicago activists are currently being held on terrorism-related charges as a result of this entrapment.

But the story in Texas is different because the Austin detective did not provoke the group to engage in violent behavior or property destruction; the man pressured the group to escalate their nonviolent tactics. This new strategy of escalating nonviolent tactics is leading many to ask: Why would the Austin Police Department go to such lengths just to lock up seven young activists for committing a nonviolent action? 

Greg Gladden believes this is a new spin on a textbook police strategy.

“It’s getting the organization to do something drastic that will either get them locked up or marginalized by the rest of the community... Police have always done this, from Operation Chaos, to COINTELPRO, to the Red Scare," he said, referring to earlier CIA and FBI programs that monitored 60s and 70s movements--such as Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Panter Party movement, Women Strike for Peace--and domestic communist organizing.

But unlike in the past, the detective couldn’t convince the protesters to try anything violent. So he had to take what he could get.

“The APD probably realized nothing violent was going to take place, so it became a matter of trying to get the most elevated charge possible,” said Will Potter, author of the book and blog Green Is The New Red , which covers the repression of environmental and animal rights movements.

“They found that there was going to be nothing close to political violence. I think that happens in a lot of cases to justify the resources that were spent. You have to have something to show for it.”

Recently, both local police forces and federal law enforcement agencies have been spending a dizzying amount of money on security and surveillance during protests. Chicago spent more than $1 million during the NATO protest; Tampa received a $50 million grant from the feds for security during the RNC. It is unknown how much the Austin police department spent overall on Occupy to date, but the assistant police chief in Austin estimated in January that department would easily spend $1.2 million on the security around the encampment alone--a figure that doesn’t include more clandestine work like undercover detectives.

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