Looking back two years later, Occupy Wall Street now looks like one big social justice sparkler: it cooked hot and bright before going dark quick. But in those heady days of 2011, it seemed downtowns across the country were clogged with folks aiming ire at the bad guys in business suits. That sentiment has largely been put back in the holster; in terms of cultural relevance, unfortunately Occupy is probably only a year away from retro Urban Outfitter t-shirt status.
But before we lay down the final ink on that chapter of history, there are still open questions - specifically, how far Uncle Sam went to monitor and infiltrate Occupy groups.
A recently released stack of secret government docs show that, yup, the Department of Homeland Security was in fact spying on demonstrators, including in Broward and Miami-Dade.
The records come from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filed by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. The request, made to the Department of Homeland Security in July 2012, went fishing for information "related to law enforcement involvement in discussions, communications, and technical support regarding" the movement. The government didn't have over the records until March 2013. The heavily-redacted 600-plus pages include DHS reports on OWS activity.
Sure, a lot of people assumed Uncle Sam was keeping tabs on Occupy, but here's the unsettling detail of how it went down.
The stack includes two references to local demonstrations, both in October 2011. On October 22, Occupy Fort Lauderdale held a demonstration at 11:00 am at the Federal courthouse downtown. Below is a video capturing the action.
Apparently, the Federal Protective Service (which falls under DHS' umbrella) was also watching. An unknown employee filed a narrative report on the event:
On October 22, 2011 at proximately 11:16 on hours at US District Courthouse, FLUOBBZZ, located at 299 East Broward Boulevard Fort Lauderdale Florida an "occupy Fort Lauderdale" demonstration took place in support of the "occupy Wall street" demonstration and to protest the current economic conditions and corporate greed. The demonstration had no designated leader/organizer this time. At its largest point there were approximately 80 demonstrators in attendance. Demonstrators were peaceful and follow the directions of the physical security guard when instructed to remain on the cobble stone sidewalk and of federal property. The demonstration at the courthouse lasted until about 12:00 hours where it moved across the street under Fort Lauderdale PD escort.
Fort Lauderdale PD did not have to deploy addition units, aside from their regular duty officers. There was no media coverage, except for the cameras used buy the demonstrators.
Now as far as demonstrations go, the Occupy Fort Lauderdale event wasn't exactly the anarchist Molotov-toss the government was on edge about. Still, the report is written in a way that suggests the writer was scribbling in answers to very specific questions: the length of the demonstration; whether there was a ring-leader; the number of participants; the general tone; and if there was media coverage.
A second document in the stash refers to an Occupy Miami demonstration held only days earlier, on October 15. On the 12th, an email passed between redacted parties about the demonstration, which was scheduled for Bayfront Park. The document notes the "severity" of the event was "minor."
Activist groups are planning to stage an "Occupy Miami" action beginning at 1:30pm EDT on 10/15/11at Bayfront Park. A protest action will take place from 1:30pm EDT to 3:30pm EDT near the Torch of Friendship, and a general assembly is planned to follow the protest into the evening in the area.
Folks inside the movement long suspected the government was tracking protests; the hard evidence doesn't phase one former Miami Occupy member New Times spoke with. "All the other Occupys were monitored. I can't image that Miami's would be different," he said, adding that the group also suspected that the feds planted provocateurs at events. "It was pretty clear to the people that were there." There is even the possibility undercover government players had a hand in the "NATO 3" arrests.
What this kind of documentation does is settle the question once and for all - yes, the Feds were (are?) watching you. The government seems more than willing to burn man-hours and resources on something as simple, and damnit downright American, as people exercising free speech. Cause for some Orwellian night-terrors, no?