When police in Minneapolis/St. Paul raided numerous activist houses and the Convergence Center on the eve of the Republican National Convention (RNC) to pre-emptively arrest alleged key-organizers of the RNC Welcoming Committee (RNCWC) before protests had even begun, it marked a further escalation of police tactics against street protest. The Welcoming Committee was an umbrella organization created to organize protests against the RNC. Police charged eight activists with felony charges of “Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism” for their involvement in the RNCWC — a heavy over-reaction to activities that amounted to organizing public street protests. Monica Biking, Eryn Trimmer, Luce Guillen Givins, Erik Oseland, Nathanael Secor, Robert Czernik, Garrett Fitzgerald, and Max Spector face up to 7 1/2 years in jail if convicted. They have been dubbed the RNC 8 which strangely rings the tone of the Chicago 8.
A search warrant affidavit demonstrates the police over-reaction and intent to go after the activist community as terrorists for daring to call for street protests. Cop language implies that the RNCWC are tantamount to the Mafia: “The RNCWC is an organized criminal enterprise who have conspired with affinity groups throughout the United States to come to St. Paul, MN during the RNC and utilize criminal activities to disrupt and stop the RNC.”
The heavy emphasis of the affidavit on conspiracy charges and the implication that these could attach to activist affinity groups across the US is particularly disturbing since one can be guilty of conspiracy even if you don’t actually commit a substantive crime. You can be convicted of conspiracy merely for agreeing with others to do something illegal — such as street blockades, etc. — even if you never step off the sidewalk.
The cop affidavit is full of wild exaggeration based on police infiltration and surveillance of the RNCWC for over a year prior to the RNC: “On 8/29/07, the Ramose County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO), Special Investigations Unit (SIU) initiated an investigation, along with other law enforcement agencies, into the RNC Welcoming committee (RNCWC).” The affidavit claims the Welcoming Committee sought to kidnap delegates, assault police officers with firebombs, and sabotage airports, none of which ever happened. It reads more like a police fantasy about comic book anarchist action figures than what real activists talk about at open meetings. But in the end, unlawful assembly seems to be the bottom line: “This conspiracy includes criminal damage to property, riot, civil disorder, use of incendiary devices and unlawful assembly.”
Perhaps most disturbingly, the police affidavit makes clear how thoroughly they infiltrated RNCWC activities. “This investigation has utilized regular surveillance of members of the RNCWC. Additionally, an Undercover Investigator (UI) and a Confidential Reliable Informant (CRI1) were utilized and posed as members of the RNCWC. CRI1 was utilized as a paid informant. . . . This investigation also had access to information provided by a Confidential Reliable Informant (CRI2) from another law enforcement agency. . . . This CRI was also posing as a member of the RNCWC.” The affidavit confirms that the police put the convergence center under surveillance from the moment it opened and kept track of who went in and out.
If you had anything to do with the RNCWC over the last year, you can’t help but feel paranoid — was the person I talked to a cop? Does the FBI have my name? Will they come after my affinity group next? The police had access to RNCWC email lists: “Through the use of UI, CRI1 and CRI2, this investigation had access to RNCWC group emails (also referred to as 3rd Coast list).”
Creating mass fear is precisely the point of these types of police operations. They seek to chill thousands of regular people from daring to engage in street protests by targeting a few individuals and letting us all know we’re being watched. The activist scene has two responses: refusing to be frightened off and supporting our comrades who the police seek to sacrifice as scapegoats.
The RNC 8 needs support during their trial and beyond. At the moment, they need to raise money for a vigorous legal defense. Many people are hosting benefits and spreading the word. You can write checks to “CUAPB” and put “RNC 8″ in the memo. Send them to: RNC 8 Legal Defense Fund, c/o CUAPB, 3100 16th Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55407 or check out RNC8.org.