Know yourself and know the enemy and you can win a hundred battles

RNC Puppet Police

Revolutionary Worker #1076, October 29, 2000,


On August 1, as demonstrations against the criminal injustice system were about to hit full speed at the Republican National Convention, the Philadelphia police staged a raid. The target, a warehouse in West Philadelphia, was being used by activists to prepare political puppets. These puppets were to have been part of demonstrations against the criminal justice system and the death penalty--and to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Instead of making it to the street, the puppets were destroyed by police and the 75 people in and around the warehouse were arrested.

The story of the warehouse raid, however, did not start on August 1, but about a week before. It was then, during preparations for the protests, that four men showed up at the warehouse at 41st and Haverford. The four, known as Tim, Harry, George and Ryan, were older than most of the puppet building crew. They said they were union carpenters from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, who built stages. According to those working on the puppets at the warehouse, they were hard workers, but did not seem very political.

In fact the four were Pennsylvania state police, working undercover. Their job was to gather intelligence on those organizing protests and lay the basis for a "search warrant" being issued that would lead to the raid in the warehouse. What else these police spies were doing during that time has not yet come out.

News of the agents was revealed in an affidavit filed in court before the raid (sealed at the time) and made public in September. The affidavit specifically acknowledges the spies saying, "This investigation is utilizing several Pennsylvania State Troopers in an undercover capacity that have infiltrated several of the activist groups planning to commit numerous illegal direct actions."

National Police Web

The affidavit itself is written by two Pennsylvania State Police officers who say they are part of a task force "consisting of various operational units within the Pennsylvania State Police assigned to the RNC." It opens with their "resumes" and is a window into the web of police operations going on during the RNC.

One of the cops, Corporal Howard W. Shepard, is described as a member of the Pennsylvania State Police and unit supervisor of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Criminal Investigation Assessment Unit. The other cop, Trooper Gregg J. Kravistkly, describes himself saying he has participated in more than 125 undercover investigations, and that "I have received specialized training in the investigation of illegal drug trafficking and criminal investigation from the PSP [Pennsylvania State Police], the Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania (OAG), the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Middle Atlantic Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network (MAGLOCLEN)."

Amid the tangle of acronyms this cop trots out, something is being revealed. "MAGLOCLEN" is part of the U.S. Justice Department funded Regional Information Sharing System--a law enforcement network set up to share intelligence and coordinate efforts against what it calls "criminal networks" that cross jurisdictional lines. The DEA training he mentions sounds similar to "Operation Pipeline" training--a national program to teach local police how to turn traffic stops into drug busts, and for filling police databases with information gained during such "Pipeline" stops. Pipeline has been responsible for the huge wave of a certain kind of racial profiling that has swept across the U.S. In any case, to see state police with this type of national training utilized at the RNC is certainly interesting--especially from the standpoint of how these federal initiatives tie together local police agencies into a more cohesive law enforcement unit for political suppression.

Criminalizing Dissent

The affidavit is revealing of how the power structure viewed tackling the protests during the RNC. The bulk of the document deals with describing the political forces who were in the field around the RNC and specifically mentions a number of groups. Among them: Direct Action Network, ACTUP Philadelphia, Kensington Welfare Rights Union, Ruckus Society, Black Box-Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc, R2K Committee of the Pennsylvania Consumer Action Network, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, National People's Campaign/Worker's World, and Refuse & Resist!. As it describes the organizations, it cites statements from organizers and refers to actions at previous demonstrations, in an attempt to raise the specter of "lawbreaking" during the RNC. The police proceed from the standpoint that these forces, by their very declarations that they will demonstrate, are criminal.

It was by "criminalizing dissent" that police attempted to preempt a strong message indicting the injustices of their system during the RNC. The affidavit is filled with speculation and hearsay about what could happen in Philly and recounts what happened at the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle and anti-IMF (International Monetary Fund) demonstration in Washington, DC. It is very concerned that demonstrators might effectively block traffic and create greater disruptions--and it attempts to cast this in a sinister criminal light.

To give some flavor of the police method here, the affidavit quotes a pretty straightforward section of the Independent Media Center's mission statement, "the focus will be on what happens outside the convention center: the impact on the city and its people's lives, and the diverse range of perspectives that will be represented in a variety of protest marches, rallies and other events during convention week." It then tries to paint this with the brush of criminality by saying there were Independent Media Centers during the protests in Seattle and Washington, DC and that "Information indicated that members of the IMC conducted counter-surveillance of law enforcement. They also monitored broadcasts of police radio communications and provided real time broadcasts of the same over the internet. The IMC provided communications between groups of demonstrators and orchestrated their movements."

Given the undercover operatives the political police fielded in Philadelphia, this charge of "conducting counter-surveillance" is particularly outrageous. Why shouldn't an independent media be interested in what the police were doing! As for the charge of monitoring police radio and the like--that's exactly what the mainstream media does day in and day out. Only they do this deliberately to aid the authorities in everything from controlling demonstrations to building support for the cold-blooded war on the people they call a "war on crime." The message here is that the police and other state authorities have the right to surveil, infiltrate, arrest, interrogate, etc. at will. On the other hand, people stepping out and opposing the system, including by monitoring how the police are conducting their repression, is not only off-limits, it is evidence of a "criminal conspiracy."

And the police image of planned mayhem in the street was projected and reinforced by the mainstream media during the RNC. It was widely reported that a piece of equipment for holding puppets was "a giant sling shot" and that fire-twirling props were "kerosene soaked rags." Just how far "out there" things got came out in the sensational reporting of the seizure of a bus filled with lizards, mice, frogs, crickets, snakes and toads (some of them poisonous according to the press) by gun-wielding police. Cops suggested that the animals might be used as weapons against the police, or perhaps were set to be released at the GOP arena to disrupt it. Ten days later police quietly released the bus and most of the 1,000 animals, which were in fact destined to go to a pet store before being swept up by the police.

Lies and Denials

In the aftermath of the raid, police flatly denied that they had infiltrated any groups. These were the same cops who just as forcefully denied that they were responsible for surveillance in advance of the convention. In other words, they lied.

Activists in early July reported on how men with cameras had been staked out across the street from where they were meeting. The PPD denied this at the time with Deputy Commissioner Robert Mitchell saying, "All I can say is no. [It's] not us." Two weeks later, after one newspaper traced the license plate numbers to the PPD, police spokesperson Susan Slawson admitted, "We were surveilling." In the same interview she said flatly, "We are not infiltrating groups."

Revelations of these police agents was disturbing for those who ended up working with them. One young protester who worked with the four undercover cops on a float told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was suspicious based on how the four "volunteer carpenters" looked but thought that he was just responding to stereotypes. "I remember thinking to myself, 'Why does everyone who looks like that have to be a cop?' I didn't like that I thought like that." One problem is that looks really aren't a good way to figure out such a difficult matter. A better clue that something was wrong came out in the fact that, according to demonstrators (talking to the Philadelphia Inquirer), "They did not seem particularly political or well-informed." There are deep lessons here for political activists about knowing the enemy and knowing the people.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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