Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Holy FBI Katrina Activist Mole, Batman! Who Saw that Coming?

Been offline today, but got on and heard this hot New Orleans-related news via Twitter per PonchatrainPete. According to a HuffPo post, a Katrina activist has outed himself as an FBI mole. The mole's name is Brandon Darby, and the post says two men Darby accused of "planning subversive activity at the RNC have been in federal detention in Minnesota since the convention."
Note to those trying to rebuild the City of New Orleans, if one of your volunteers turns off the radio every time the Dixie Chicks come on, wears a three piece suit to human rights rallies, storms out of the confession part of the Frost Versus Nixon, or puts invisible quote marks around the word "war crimes," you might be infiltrated by some one more interested in busting protesters than helping rebuild a city brought to its knees by massive federal levee failures. (Karen Dalton-Beninato at HP)
Beninanto links to two supporting stories in her post, "Life's a Snitch" at The Texas Observer and "Activist Unmasks Himself as Federal Informant in G.O.P. Convention Case" at The New York Times.

From The Texas Observer comes this excerpt and quote:
“The simple truth is that I have chosen to work with the Federal Bureau of investigation [sic],” Brandon Darby said in an open letter he sent this week to friends he has worked with since 2002.

Darby’s activist network stretches from Austin to New Orleans, where he co-founded Common Ground Relief, a grassroots reconstruction effort that drew thousands of volunteers from around the country. In 2004, he helped organize and was arrested during anti-Halliburton protests in Houston. His letter suggests that he disagreed with tactics some members of the Austin Area Affinity Group planned to use to disrupt the Republican Convention. Darby was a member of the group.

“When people act out of anger and hatred, and then claim that their actions were part of a movement or somehow tied into the struggle for social justice only after being caught, it’s damaging to the efforts of those who do give of themselves to better this world,” reads Darby’s letter. (Texas Observer)
Please read the whole story. It sounds like a spy novel, and it kind of gives me chills because
I worked briefly at a local activist organization that was targeted by Republicans, and after listening to this one ultra-conservative IT guy there, who was probably harmless but whose perspective seemed out of place, I told a co-worker she should be careful about what she said around him. I liked the guy on a personal level, but figured eventually this man, who was a former police officer and Marine, would go off and report to "authorities" something he didn't like for ideological reasons and make it sound like the nonprofit was full of traitors to the American way of life. Just my paranoia or good instincts? I'll never know. He's still there, despite the organization facing a scandal and FBI investigation upheaval.

Also, there was a hyper, power-hungry co-worker who claimed that her work with the group had jeopardized her keeping custody of her child because she testified about FEMA malfeasance in relation to Hurricane Katrina. She (let's call her "Mary") claimed the judge on her case had been implicated somehow in the politics behind New Orleans flooding or something like that, and the judge had suggested Mary may have been unstable, unable to parent, because she was associated with the activist group.

I took everything Mary said with a grain of salt because she was a drama queen, but you never know. In New Orleans, there are always enough dirty tricks to go around, and it was clear this large activist group had been targeted. However, the group made itself an easy mark because it tended to be sloppy with paperwork, a sure way to get taken down by government bureaucrats with nonsensical, weak charges. Furthermore, the organization's staff, much more than the group's poor African-American and Hispanic members, sometimes indulged in idealism on steroids, not too wise when you know the RNC's gunning for you.

I got out because I could see the ceiling was about to fall, including a money cover-up that was common knowledge in the office in which I worked, and the higher-ups refused to hear house-cleaning advice or any challenges to the ethics tight-rope it sometimes walked. Furthermore, the group, that also involved itself in workers' rights as part of working to counter poverty, had employee policies that were just as bad, if not worse, than some of the companies it criticized, but management seemed to think it was excused because the group was a "nonprofit." Generally, if you pointed out a real problem, some in management suspected you of disloyalty, even individual managers who were themselves suspicious of the group's dedication to its low-income members.

Of late, the organization's been doing a lot of house-cleaning since its mismanagement came to light. There are staff and members who were clueless about some of the poor management and questionable actions. Nevertheless, the group was definitely targeted for political reasons, not actual criminal activity, and that just stinks. During the election, its voter registration work came under attack, but that was expected.

Increasingly the group wanted to identify itself more with a national campaign to rebuild New Orleans, and it has done a lot of credible work for the cause. In fact, one of its activists won the human rights award from the Robert Kennedy Memorial Foundation. He's been bumped up the ladder at the group, which while serving minorities has few minorities in management. Why the award-winning activist chooses to remain, I'm not sure.

The group, however, has also pushed a black woman to be its figurehead since the walls started crumbling. I guess she's brave.

Back to Darby. Boy, if Darby's accusations of those two Texas men, David McKay and Bradley Crowder, are tainted by malicious intent, that sucks. They were arrested on "charges of making and possessing Molotov cocktails," per NYT and other news sources.

You can read a copy of Darby's letter at The Minnesota Independent or at neworleans.indymedia.org.

No comments: