Tear Gas and Clubs in Lafayette Square Were Just the Beginning

Tear Gas and Clubs in Lafayette Square Were Just the Beginning

Tear Gas and Clubs in Lafayette Square Were Just the Beginning

Trump and Barr are turning to the “Occupy model” to crush the current uprising against police brutality.


On June 1, President Trump ordered National Park Police and troops from the District of Columbia National Guard and some other federal law enforcement agencies to drive peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square, north of the White House, to clear the way for his Bible-holding photo op. The same day, Trump and his Attorney General William Barr, along with Defense Secretary Mark Esper, also placed a call to the nation’s 50 governors.

A leaked transcript of that taped conversation, published in full by a number of major news organizations, shows both Trump and Barr referring in glowing terms to the way the Obama administration, almost nine years earlier, had crushed the months-long Occupy Movement across the country in a matter of a few days.

Trump told the governors, many of whose states were experiencing massive protests against police brutality in the wake of the brutal videotaped police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis,

This is like Occupy Wall Street. It was a disaster until one day somebody said, “That’s enough.” And they just went in and wiped them out. And it’s the last time I heard the name Occupy Wall Street…. They…closed Wall Street, they closed up Wall Street, the financial district of the world, total domination, they were ordering pizzas, nobody did anything.

And then one day somebody said that’s enough, you’re getting out of here within two hours, and then after that everything was beautiful and that was the last time we heard about it.

Trump was followed at that point in the call by Attorney General Barr, who told the assembled governors that the Trump administration planned to use the same Fusion Centers and Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) the Obama administration had relied on to spy on and then crush the Occupy Movement to shut down the current wave of urban uprisings and protests over police brutality.

As Barr put it, “The structure we’re going to use is the Joint Terrorist Task Force, which I know most of you are familiar with. Tried and true system. It’s worked for domestic and homegrown terrorists, and we’re going to employ that model.”

It’s important to remember what actually happened with the Occupy Movement, a remarkable protest against inequality, corporate power, and the corrupt Wall Street banks whose recklessness had caused the 2008 financial crisis. Occupy was a spontaneous grassroots protest that sprang up in September 2011 in Lower Manhattan with the occupation of a one-block space called Zuccotti Park located just two blocks north of the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway. That encampment was quickly replicated in over 18 cities across the nation as part of a movement that introduced into popular discourse the class-conscious notion of “the 1 percent and the 99 percent.”

As Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Washington, D.C.–based Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) recalls, the Occupy movement, largely leaderless and anarchic in its lack of organizational structure, terrified Wall Street’s financial elite, as well as leaders of both parties in Washington, with its unvarnished rhetoric about class conflict and combating corporate power. “The government wanted to suppress it, to shut it down,” she says. “That’s why you saw encampments wiped out by police with over 7,000 arrests.”

PCJF, following that shutdown of Occupy, turned to the Freedom of Information Act, seeking all documents relating to efforts to crush that movement from both the FBI and the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security, as well as the Pentagon and other intel agencies. After appeals, the organization received thousands of pages of heavily redacted documents that made it clear that even as the FBI was reporting that the Occupy movement was peaceful, it had been classified as a domestic terrorist threat by both the FBI and DHS, “before even the first encampments were set up in Zuccotti Park and elsewhere in mid-September,” with the FBI already providing detailed warnings of Occupy Wall Street’s plans to Wall Street banks and US corporations as early as August, 2011.

“The documents showed that the motivation for the federal government’s efforts against Occupy were not in reaction to anything activists were doing that was illegal, but were rather politically motivated. And what we’re seeing happen now is the same thing,” says Verheyden-Hilliard.

What is this “model” that Barr referred to on the White House call with the nation’s governors—the model of repression of peaceful protest that Trump called “beautiful”?

Documents obtained by the PCJF—and news reports from late fall 2011—show that it involved violent, often nighttime assaults on Occupy encampments that frequently (in Manhattan, Oakland, and other cities) featured everything from tear gas and pepper spray, rubber bullets, bean-bag projectiles, and flash-bang grenades to assaults with fists and clubs by local police. The documents also show that several crucial telephone conference calls among mayors and police chiefs of cities with Occupy encampments, made before the attacks began, were facilitated by the Department of Homeland Security.

Verheyden-Hilliard explains that the FOIA documents show the police chiefs’ and mayor’s communications were being relayed to the Southern Nevada Counter-Terrorism Center in Las Vegas, which was compiling and sending them out twice weekly to all the 72 Fusion Centers then operating across the country. She adds that the FBI, in addition to its own close monitoring of Occupy, was also obtaining information from local police surveillance of and informants operating inside the various Occupy encampments through the re-gional Joint Terrorism Task Force offices.

At these sessions, cities were urged to use night raids, to keep journalists away from the actions, and to use maximum force in an effort to deter occupiers from returning to the encampments, many of which, like the one in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan’s financial district, were trashed by the police, with occupiers’ possessions, including campaign gear, electronic equipment, and musical instruments, hauled away by Sanitation Department trucks.

“What’s clear is that at Attorney General Barr’s behest the JTTFs are using the Occupy ‘model’ to have federal agencies like the FBI and Homeland Security work with local police to turn their sights on the fight for social justice,” says Verheyden-Hilliard.

Pooja Gehi, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), warns, “The ‘Occupy model’ Barr refers to on the call to governors is a coordinated federal/state/local program to target national and local protest organizers and to charge them with serious terrorism felonies.” The NLG, a national civil liberties defense organization, provided legal assistance to Occupy Movement activists and is offering similar aid to activists during the current wave of uprisings against police brutality and racism.

Already, Gehi reports, her organization is “hearing reports of FBI agents accompanying local police on visits to the homes of leaders and activists in the current protests.” She adds, “They are joining in questioning people. We’re working around the clock to combat this.”

Both Verheyden-Hilliard and Gehi note that the FBI’s involvement in such questioning is particularly troubling, because, unlike with local or state police, lying to an FBI agent is itself a felony under federal law, even when the person being questioned is not under oath and has not been not been advised of their right to remain silent in the absence of legal counsel.

 Verheyden-Hilliard says, “What Barr is doing is trying to gather enough information to fabricate a headline-grabbing conspiracy case to kill this movement fighting for racial justice, and to give some talking points to a very disturbed and angry president.”

“The government’s first effort was a physical one,” she says. “By launching a very violent assault on peaceful protesters in DC and elsewhere, they hoped it would make people afraid to go out onto the streets and protest. It was a ‘shock and awe’ approach, and it was a complete failure that had the reverse effect, making people angrier and willing to go out in larger numbers, even bringing along their kids!”

“Next I think they will turn to violence and arrests,” she predicts. “But while Occupy was tactically vulnerable, this movement is everywhere—and it is much bigger. There’s nothing like thousands of people standing together, and this time, it’s people fighting for their lives.”

Judy (not her real name) a white supporter of the current BLM protests in Tucson, says that after a male roommate had been arrested and detained briefly by local Tucson police on a “curfew violation” charge while riding his bicycle behind a protest march, two FBI agents kicked on her door looking for him. The agents didn’t identify themselves, and because they were not wearing masks, she stayed quiet and pretended not to be home. A day later, they returned, again kicking the door and calling out for the man, saying they were FBI agents and knew he was there because they’d just seen him entering the apartment. The woman says she told them through the door, ”I’m sorry. We don’t talk to cops.” The agents told her that her friend (actually, her partner’s twin brother, who was no longer was staying there) was suspected of flying a drone at the demonstration, which they termed a felony, and warned that if she were harboring him, she could also be charged with a felony. “It was a lie. He doesn’t have a drone,” she told The Nation. Both individuals have contacted the NLG and are being represented by that group at this point.

While lying to the FBI is a felony, G-men are apparently free to do so with impunity in Barr’s Justice Department.

Additional evidence of coordinated attacks on the current BLM-lead protests comes from a new report by Amnesty International, which documents 125 instances of violence against protesters in the police response to “largely peaceful” assemblies and protests in some 300 cities across the United States just between May 26 and June 5. Amnesty’s chief researcher for North America, Brian Griffey, says that by repeatedly threatening governors that if they do not “dominate” the protests in their states, active-duty federal troops would be sent in, “Trump and Barr were effectively telling the governors to have their own police take tough actions against protests and not to be just reactive.”

Note: Repeated calls and email inquiries to the US Justice Department’s Office of Public Affairs, seeking an explanation for what AG Barr meant by his reference to a JTTF “model” used against the Occupy Movement, were ignored. (Readers should know that in the Trump administration, most federal departments do not provide direct telephone numbers for department secretaries or for so-called “public affairs” offices.)

This post has been updated.

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