BETWEEN THE LINES: Police Infiltrated Activist Groups
According to recently unsealed court documents, four Pennsylvania State Troopers were among the dozens of activists building puppets, floats and props to be used in demonstrations at this summer's Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. The officers, posing as union carpenters, volunteered their services at a warehouse that was later raided by police on Aug. 1st, the same day thousands of protesters engaged in non-violent civil disobedience to block traffic on city streets.
More than 400 demonstrators were arrested during the actions in Philadelphia, including 75 who were picked up in the puppet warehouse raid. The police infiltrators had stated that protesters in the warehouse were constructing devices to block traffic, an allegation denied by the activists who say they were only making puppets and art for Republican National Convention demonstrations. Court documents also state that police believed that funding for the protests came from "Communist and leftist parties," some allied with groups connected to the former Soviet Union. Police set unprecedented amounts of bail for many of those arrested on misdemeanor charges. Some identified as leaders were held on as much as $1 million bond until court-ordered reductions. Additionally, law enforcement was engaged in monitoring telephones and e-mail communication.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Bradley Bridge, an attorney with Philadelphia's Public Defenders office representing some of those arrested, who condemns the use of police infiltrators and Cold War era propaganda to disrupt and discredit the activities of social justice activists.
Bradley Bridge: The police had obtained a search warrant and the basis for their search warrant alleged that the warehouse was being used for the production of puppets, but also for lock boxes, which are plastic devices made out of PCV pipe, chain and chicken wire that immobilize people's arms if they were placed in them so that they could lie down in an intersection and make it difficult for police to remove them. That was the reason for their pre-emptive raid at the warehouse.
They arrested people in several trucks (parked nearby) allegedly for possession of the same items. The interesting thing is they didn't find anything like that in the warehouse. They supposedly had a number of troopers that had infiltrated it -- I think the number I heard is four -- and they didn't find any of those devices in the warehouse. They found puppets. I know that's what they found because I was in the warehouse at the time of the raid.
Between The Lines: As an attorney, how do you look at this case in terms of the veracity and the legal grounds under which this raid was conducted?
Bradley Bridge: Let me examine each of those two questions separately. If you talk about veracity, there's a lot of questions about the truthfulness of the allegations made in the search warrant. Certain things were alleged there that from what I've been able to determine so far were incorrect or maybe outright false. So veracity is called into question.
But if you talk about the legality of it, there's not a real strong basis even if you accepted all the allegations as being true in the search warrant -- to go in pre-emptively and arrest 75 people sitting in a warehouse for doing nothing but making puppets.
Between The Lines: What do you make of Pennsylvania authorities -- both in the city of Philadelphia and the governor's comments -- that these pre-emptive strikes were necessary to protect the people of the state of Pennsylvania?
Bradley Bridge: I guess the simple thing is (the governor) obviously doesn't know anything about the facts, because that's not what happened. There were not modest, passive steps, but aggressive, immodest steps. If he's worried about saying that there's a right to protest, and a right for lawful protest, then the people who wanted to make a message and send it out to the community should have been allowed to do so. The people were producing puppets; they weren't actually doing anything else other than producing puppets, and when the police raided the warehouse, that's all they found.
Not only did they arrest everyone in the warehouse, but then they threw all the puppets that they found in the warehouse in the garbage. So it's pretty clear that they were not only bent on stifling the people who were making the message, but they were bent on stifling the message itself.
Between The Lines: I wanted to go over some of the information that was unsealed in these police documents. The documents legitimizing the puppet house raid cite funding for one protest group allegedly originating with Communist and leftist parties and from sympathetic trade unions or from the former Soviet allied World Federation of Trade Unions. What do you think of this revitalization of the "Cold War" in Philadelphia?
Bradley Bridge: Apparently, whoever authored the affidavit of probable cause is plainly out of touch with present reality and is stuck 40 years back. It has absolutely nothing to do with the world in which we live in now. It probably had nothing to do with the world we lived in 40 years ago, but it certainly has nothing to do with the world we live in now.
Between The Lines: Is this labeling of protesters as dangerous leftists part of an orchestration to taint or otherwise reduce the credibility of activists organizing the protests we've seen in the last ten months?
Bradley Bridge: It may have been an attempt to do that, but I think if you look at the allegations, what it does is it really taints the allegations and the allegers themselves. I mean, to spout to such bizarre paranoia has to strike any intelligent person as ridiculous and absurd on its face.
Between The Lines: What are some of your greatest concerns about where things are headed with local and federal enforcement as it applies to this new and growing global justice movement?
Bradley Bridge: As I said, I was present when the people went through the warehouse, when the Secret Service went through, when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and bomb squad went through. It was clear that there was a lot of coordination between the federal, state and local police forces in that situation. I think the coordination of the police organizations to thwart a message is exceptionally threatening, because it's not just on one level, but it's all over and it's a national effort. And I find that tremendously intimidating and daunting. Everyone should be concerned about it, because the threat against any one person to present a lawful message is a threat to everybody's ability to present a lawful message.
Contact Philadelphia's Public Defenders office by calling (215) 568-3190. To offer support, contact the R2K Legal Collective at (215) 704-0911.