Documents obtained by The Intercept confirm that undercover police officers attended numerous Black Lives Matter protests in New York City between December 2014 and February 2015. The documents also show that police in New York have monitored activists, tracking their movements and keeping individual photos of them on file.
The nearly 300 documents, released by the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Metro-North Railroad, reveal more on-the-ground surveillance of Black Lives Matter activists than previous reports have shown, conducted by a coalition of MTA counterterrorism agents and undercover police in conjunction with NYPD intelligence officers.
This appears to be the first documented proof of the frequent presence of undercover police at Black Lives Matter protests in the city of New York, though many activists have suspected their presence since mass protests erupted there last year over a grand jury’s decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, a police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner.
The protest surveillance and use of undercover officers raises questions over whether New York-area law enforcement agencies are potentially criminalizing the exercise of free speech and treating activists like terrorist threats. Critics say the police files seem to document a response vastly disproportionate to the level of law breaking associated with the protests.
The documents were released to activists after several requests under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, which asked for records from the MTA, MTA Metro-North, the New York State Police, and the NYPD pertaining to Black Lives Matter protests at Grand Central Terminal between November 2014 and January 2015.
In the 118 pages released by the MTA, the names of undercover police officers are redacted at least 58 times in five December 2014 protests, 124 times at five protests in January 2015, and 10 times at one protest in February 2015. The Intercept has been unable to contact any of the undercover police reporting on protests because the MTA said it redacted the “names of undercover police officers,” citing the New York Public Officers Law stipulating that certain records, which “if disclosed could endanger the life or safety of any person,” may be withheld. Metro-North also redacted the names of undercover officers. Both entities also said they redacted location and contact information for regular MTA police named in the documents.
Together the 118 MTA and 161 Metro-North documents also showed monitoring of an additional protest in November 2014, 11 protests in December 2014, nine protests in January 2015, and two protests in February 2015 by MTA officials and undercover police working at times in conjunction with NYPD officers.
In response to The Intercept’s request for information on the use of undercover police officers at Grand Central protests, MTA spokesperson Adam Lisberg issued the following statement: “The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department must ensure the safety and security of millions of people who pass through our railroad systems every day, at a time when transportation networks have been persistently targeted by terrorists. We accommodate peaceful protest in our transportation system, while also ensuring that protest activities do not prevent customers from using the system for transportation. We take all appropriate police measures to ensure the safety and security of our customers, but we do not discuss the particulars of those operations.”
The NYPD has not released documents in response to the request, but documents released by the MTA and Metro-North show that NYPD officials have also been involved in the surveillance of Black Lives Matter protests in Grand Central and beyond. The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.
Many of the documents released include live updates on protests from undercover police officers, reporting on group sizes, and the tracking of protesters’ movements around the city, particularly the movements of New York’s “People’s Monday” protests, which focus attention on, and demonstrate on behalf of, victims of police brutality, and which repeatedly convene at Grand Central. Some of the reports go further than tracking group movements, however, referring to specific activists and including photos of them.
In one document concerning a protest on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, for example, an officer, whose name is redacted because of his undercover status, sends frequent updates on protesters’ movements in Grand Central. The officer also notes that Jose LaSalle, founder of New York police watchdog group Copwatch Patrol Unit, has been “observed inside Grand Central Terminal.” LaSalle is mentioned four times in the documents, twice for delivering a “mic check” and twice for his mere presence, as seen in document below. His picture also appears in the files several times:
“I think its just another example of how anyone who is practicing their constitutional rights and speaking against the government is going to be considered a domestic problem,” says LaSalle. “It’s sad because all we’re doing is speaking because we feel there is no justice for people being brutalized by the system. It’s sad we have to be targets of surveillance when were not committing crimes.”
Alex Vitale, a Brooklyn College associate professor in sociology, whose work focuses on policing, argues this is part of a long history of police surveillance of activists like LaSalle. “Historically, law enforcement, both local and national, have a track record of keeping files on activists, engaging in surveillance, and targeting for excessive enforcement action people identified in leadership roles in social movement,” he said. “The evidence shown by these documents raises warning flags about resources committed and, more importantly, the degree to which local police agencies are potentially targeting non-violent activists.”
The documents also hint that such surveillance operations may be targeting groups across the city. For example, one email chain from December 9 included a table with the protest plans of four groups, including those of “Students and Faculty from East Side Community High School,” a public school in Manhattan’s East Village:
Though the documents were obtained from the MTA and Metro-North, they include several references to collaboration with NYPD officers. In one email from January 1, 2015, for example, an undercover police officer shares attached field reports and photographs of a protest at Grand Central, which MTA counterterrorism agents provided “in conjunction with NYPD Intel team members.”
In another document, sent February 13 concerning a demonstration at Grand Central, Anthony D’Angelis, identified in the document as an MTA liaison with the NYPD’s counterterrorism division, shared and labeled a photo of Alex Seel, a local photographer. In the documents, D’Angelis uses an NYPD email address.
It is unclear if any of the undercover police officers, whose names are redacted in the documents, are themselves NYPD personnel. According to the ACLU, if the NYPD is collecting information about protesters at Grand Central along the lines of the photographs that MTA appeared to collect, it may be in violation of the historic “Handschu agreement,” which regulates the department’s monitoring of political groups.
Under the decree, “the NYPD is not permitted to retain information gathered from public events unless it’s connected to suspected criminal or terrorist activity,” says Nusrat Choudhury, an attorney at the ACLU. “They cannot identify someone and have their photo in their files unless they have evidence supporting reasonable suspicion that he was about to commit criminal activity or had engaged in criminal conduct.”
Regardless of these legal gray areas and the confusing blend of agencies engaged in the surveillance, several protesters at Grand Central say they are perturbed by the photo file’s existence, considering that Seel did not share his name publicly that night and usually only comes to the protests as a quiet photographer. “I was surprised that they had photos of Alex,” says Kim Ortiz, a Black Lives Matter organizer with the Grand Central People’s Monday group, also known by its hashtag, #PeoplesMonday. “He doesn’t do any of the planning. It’s very telling. If they’re focusing on someone who’s a silent supporter, I can’t imagine what they’re doing to people more at the forefront.”
Seel says he was “surprised by how specific they were with me, calling me photographer, and a documenter, and I’m pretty sure that photo is from Penn Station, so they definitely had it on file or something. If you look at my A14 pictures, I caught some serious stuff — cops pushing people over — that’s my take on it. … So it’s definitely a fear tactic used to break down certain aspects of the movement. They know that we’re the lens of the movement.”
The MTA and Metro-North documents also show that numerous counterterror and intelligence agents are involved in this monitoring, despite repeated references in the documents to the “peaceful” and “orderly” nature of the demonstrations. The Department of Homeland Security similarly commented on the lack of violence at Black Lives Matter protests in documents describing monitoring of those protests, published previously by The Intercept.
In an MTA document from January 12, D’Angelis, the NYPD counterterrorism division liaison, shared pictures that an unnamed “activist posted” of police milling around Grand Central. The photos in the email appear to be from the Twitter account of Black Lives Matter activist Keegan Stephan. Just beneath the photos, D’Angelis’s email claims the document is for “deterring, detecting, and preventing terrorism.”
In another document from a December 7 protest for Eric Garner, Detective Keyla Hammam, identified as a member of the MTA’s Interagency Counter-Terrorism Task Force, shared a photo of prominent activist and former Philadelphia police officer Ray Lewis. An undercover police officer made an entry accompanying Hammam’s photo, mentioning Lewis’ past activities with Occupy Wall Street and stating: “A retired Philadelphia Police Officer in uniform is one of the protesters at Grand Central Terminal. He is also known to NYPD as a protestor in OWS and has an arrest record with NYPD.” (Lewis was arrested on disorderly conduct charges in connection with an Occupy Wall Street protest; the case was later closed by prosecutors.)
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” Lewis said when asked about the monitoring. “From my experience in law enforcement, I know the key concept to knocking out all protests is taking out leaders. So they see certain people and target them.”
Vitale, the sociology professor, argues that police response to peaceful protests and civil disobedience is often wrongly designed to resemble counterterrorism operations, illustrating a broader mission creep in policing over the last decade. “Protests by their nature are disruptive, and that by itself should not be grounds for surveillance and file-keeping,” he said. “But in the post-9-11 environment, there’s been a major shift towards risk aversion and massive expansion of intelligence gathering in a way such that protest activity often gets lumped in with terrorism investigation.”
In January, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton stirred controversy when he announced that the department would commingle efforts against terrorism with the containment of protests. Bratton said his new Strategic Response Group “is designed for dealing with events like our recent [Eric Garner] protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.” Bratton also noted, “In New York, dealing with terrorism, and large-scale disorder, and other so-called ‘black swan’ events involves similar skill sets.”
Many Black Lives Matter activists argue the surveillance documented in the MTA files does not constitute crime or terrorism prevention, especially given how non-confrontational the People’s Monday protest events have been.
“We do the same thing every week,” says Stephan, the People’s Monday organizer whose Twitter photos were in the documents. “We read aloud the facts of their cases, and statistics about police killings, generally. … The biggest confrontation that has occurred was when police threatened to arrest us for doing die-ins, but ultimately, they didn’t even make arrests for this — and haven’t — because even when we do die-in we aren’t obstructing access to the trains.”
Indeed, many of the MTA and Metro-North documents support Stephan’s claim, mentioning that the protests remain “peaceful,” “orderly,” “in order,” and “all orderly.” According to one email exchange from January 19, 2015, still in the swing of the post-Eric Garner non-indictment protests, top MTA officials casually discussed a Grand Central protest, CC’ing the Metro-North’s chief security officer and remarking that protesters “just began chanting. The usual routine.”
Nonetheless, this intelligence gathering on activists by undercover police and counterterrorism agents continued, according to the documents.
Comedian and Black Lives Matter activist Elsa Waithe believes the purpose of this intense police surveillance is to chill dissent and gather information in order to better target organizers. Waithe stopped attending the weekly Grand Central protests after an April 14 demonstration in which video shows her being shoved by a man identified as a police officer, allegedly because Waithe was trying to film an arrest.
“Weeks before the assault, a police officer referred to me by name, and I don’t know how he knew it,” says Waithe. “We were in Grand Central just about every single week before, so they set up a crow’s nest — like two to three guys with cameras standing up high above the concourse — a lot of those photos in your documents look like it must have come from that angle. When you know they’re recording and watching you — that’s a feeling I can’t ever shake. I don’t know what they’re doing with all those hours of tape because there’s nothing much there. It’s just being used to intimidate us.”
Waithe argues this prior surveillance in part contributed to her assault: “The day it happened, someone was getting arrested pretty roughly so I went to go film cause I’m a member of Copwatch. The officer shoved me back like a football player and I fell to the ground. I fell onto a wrought iron metal tree guard, and had to be taken in the ambulance because of severe swelling in my ribs. I think they already had information on me and saw that as an opportunity.”
Nonetheless, according to organizers, the intensity of this surveillance was expected from the get-go and dogged many of them even before the Black Lives Matter movement. Angie Brilliance, an organizer from Chicago with the group Black Youth Project 100, recalls fighting in a 2012 campaign for a mental health care facility in one of Chicago’s black neighborhoods, only to find out that some of the most provocative organizers among them may have been police informants.
“We need to be aware, especially given the digital organizing of the modern era, about how we’re being tracked,” says Brilliance. “I know we and many groups we’re affiliated with try as much as possible to not put any plans down on digital documents, to meet in person, and other strategies I probably shouldn’t make public — we have to learn from what the state did to break up our ancestors’ struggles.”
Most Black Lives Matter activists interviewed by The Intercept noted that while the intense surveillance of their lives gave them pause, it wouldn’t stop them from protesting.
“Some of this surveillance is meant to scare us and potentially to figure out what people’s next steps are,” says DeRay Mckesson, an activist whose prominent social media presence has reportedly been monitored by both private cybersecurity firms and the Department of Homeland Security. “But what we’re doing is right.”
The post Undercover Police Have Regularly Spied On Black Lives Matter Activists in New York appeared first on The Intercept.
Three weeks ago I posted a collection of quotes from politicians acknowledging the obvious reality that money has a huge impact on what they do, and asked anyone with more examples to send them to me.
You really came through. Here are 15 more great examples, with credit to the people who suggested them.
Please keep them coming; I’m looking specifically for working politicians who describe a tight linkage between money and political outcomes. And I’d still love to speak directly to current or former politicians who have an opinion about this.
I’ll continue to add all of them to the original post, so you can bookmark that for the complete collection.
• “I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me. And that’s a broken system.” — Donald Trump in 2015.Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in 2015.
• “The millionaire class and the billionaire class increasingly own the political process, and they own the politicians that go to them for money. … We are moving very, very quickly from a democratic society, one person, one vote, to an oligarchic form of society, where billionaires would be determining who the elected officials of this country are.” — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in 2015. (Thanks to Robert Wilson in comments.)
Sanders has also said many similar things, including: “I think many people have the mistaken impression that Congress regulates Wall Street. … The real truth is that Wall Street regulates the Congress.” (Thanks to ND, via email.)
• “Today’s whole political game, run by an absurdist’s nightmare of moneyed elites, is ridiculous — a game in which corporations are people and money is magically empowered to speak; candidates trek to the corporate suites and secret retreats of the rich, shamelessly selling their political souls.” — Jim Hightower, former Democratic agricultural commissioner of Texas, 2015. (Thanks to CS, via email.)
• “People tell me all the time that our politics in Washington are broken and that multimillionaires, billionaires and big corporations are calling all the shots. … It’s hard not to agree.” — Russ Feingold, three-term Democratic senator from Wisconsin, in 2015 announcing he’s running for the Senate again. (Thanks to CS, via email.)
• “I can legally accept gifts from lobbyists unlimited in number and in value … As you might guess, what results is a corruption of the institution of Missouri government, a corruption driven by big money in politics.” — Missouri state Sen. Rob Schaaf, 2015. (Thanks to DK, via email.)
• “When some think tank comes up with the legislation and tells you not to fool with it, why are you even a legislator anymore? You just sit there and take votes and you’re kind of a feudal serf for folks with a lot of money.” — Dale Schultz, 32-year Republican state legislator in Wisconsin and former state Senate Majority Leader, in 2013 before retiring rather than face a primary challenger backed by Americans for Prosperity.
Several months later Schultz said: “I firmly believe that we are beginning in this country to look like a Russian-style oligarchy where a couple of dozen billionaires have basically bought the government.”
• “I was directly told, ‘You want to be chairman of House Administration, you want to continue to be chairman.’ They would actually put in writing that you have to raise $150,000. They still do that — Democrats and Republicans. If you want to be on this committee, it can cost you $50,000 or $100,000 — you have to raise that money in most cases.” — Bob Ney, five-term Republican congressman from Ohio who pleaded guilty to corruption charges connected to the Jack Abramoff scandal, in 2013. (Thanks to ratpatrol in comments.)
• “American democracy has been hacked. … The United States Congress … is now incapable of passing laws without permission from the corporate lobbies and other special interests that control their campaign finances.” — Al Gore, former vice president, in his 2013 book The Future. (Thanks to anon in comments.)
• “I will begin by stating the sadly obvious: Our electoral system is a mess. Powerful financial interests, free to throw money about with little transparency, have corrupted the basic principles underlying our representative democracy.” — Chris Dodd, five-term Democratic senator from Connecticut, in 2010 farewell speech. (Thanks to RO, via email.)
• “Across the spectrum, money changed votes. Money certainly drove policy at the White House during the Clinton administration, and I’m sure it has in every other administration too.” — Joe Scarborough, four-term Republican congressman from Florida and now co-host of “Morning Joe,” in the 1990s. (Thanks to rrheard in comments.)
• “We are the only people in the world required by law to take large amounts of money from strangers and then act as if it has no effect on our behavior.” — Barney Frank, 16-term Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, in the 1990s. (Thanks to RO, via email.)
• “Money plays a much more important role in what is done in Washington than we believe. … You’ve got to cozy up, as an incumbent, to all the special interest groups who can go out and raise money for you from their members, and that kind of a relationship has an influence on the way you’re gonna vote. … I think we have to become much more vigilant on seeing the impact of money. … I think it’s wrong and we’ve got to change it.” — Mitt Romney, then the Republican candidate running against Ted Kennedy for Senate, in 1994. (Thanks to LA, via email.)Franklin D. Roosevelt in a 1933 letter to Edward M. House. (Thanks to LH, via email.)
• “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.” — 1912 platform of the Progressive Party, founded by former president Theodore Roosevelt. (Thanks to LH, via email.)
The post “You’ve Got to Cozy Up”: More Politicians Admitting That Money Controls Politics appeared first on The Intercept.
A top adviser to the Jeb Bush campaign has signed on to lobby for Uganda’s virulently anti-gay government.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last year signed into law a bill that criminalizes homosexuality, with some acts punishable by life in prison. The move was widely condemned, both internationally and within the United States. President Barack Obama sharply criticized the anti-gay law, telling Museveni that it would “complicate our valued relationship” and mark a “step backward” for all Ugandans.
In desperate need to improve its image in Washington, Uganda has turned to Vin Weber, a well-connected lobbyist who is advising Bush’s presidential campaign.
Uganda hired Mercury Public Affairs, Weber’s firm, for a $50,000 per month retainer with Weber as the only registered lobbyist on the account. The contract calls for Mercury to provide general “lobbying services” as well as communication services to promote trade and investment opportunities in Uganda.
Weber joined the Bush campaign effort in February as an outside adviser. According to the Washington Post, Weber has worked behind the scenes to develop ties between Bush and major donors and conservative leaders. He told the Post in June that he intends to “coordinate policy” for the campaign.
Neither the Bush campaign nor Mercury Public Affairs responded to a request for comment.
The anti-LGBT laws proposed in Uganda have found support from some religious right figures in the American conservative movement. According to journalist Jeff Sharlet, Ugandan politician David Bahati, the sponsor of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, is a member of a conservative Christian organization known as The Family, whose members include Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Ok., Jim DeMint, and Tom Coburn.
Religious right figures Bryan Fischer and Lou Engle have also provided praised the effort. (Notably, Hillary Clinton is one of a very small group of Democrats to attend private Capitol Hill prayer services organized by The Family.)
The Anti-Homosexuality Act was scaled back last year to remove the death penalty, but was ultimately blocked by the Ugandan courts for procedural reasons. Still, Bahati pledged to reintroduce the bill this year.
According to a human rights report released last month by the Consortium on Monitoring Violations Based on Sex Determination, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, members of Uganda’s LGBT community have faced widespread abuse, including individuals arrested on suspicion of being gay.
The post Top Jeb Bush Adviser Vin Weber Signs On to Lobby for Anti-Gay Uganda Government appeared first on The Intercept.
Alan Greenspan, the policy failure whose tenure at the Federal Reserve helped create the conditions for the largest financial crisis in nearly a century, was inexplicably given a major newspaper platform on Monday to opine about regulation, which he ideologically abhors.
So it came as a surprise to read the second paragraph of his Financial Times op-ed, wishfully describing an alternative history of 2008, if only there had been robust regulation.
“What the 2008 crisis exposed was a fragile underpinning of a highly leveraged financial system,” Greenspan writes. “Had bank capital been adequate and fraud statutes been more vigorously enforced, the crisis would very likely have been a financial episode of only passing consequence.”
Greenspan must have temporarily forgotten that he had the power to accomplish both of these priorities as Fed chair.
Before the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Fed had primary responsibility over consumer protection, including rule-writing, supervision, and prohibition of unfair and deceptive practices. They even were charged with resolving consumer complaints.
Greenspan famously did none of this during the inflating of the housing bubble from 2002 to 2006, instead extolling the virtues of adjustable-rate loans and mortgage securitization, even as fellow Fed governors and the FBI publicly warned about looming fraud. The responsibility for vigorously enforcing fraud statutes, then, fell to Greenspan, and he ignored it.
Greenspan also laments that Wall Street firms carried too much debt before the crisis, and not enough capital. More capital – in the form of stock or cash reserves – would have made sure banks, rather than taxpayers, covered their own losses. But Greenspan could have enacted this at the time, being the head of the most powerful financial regulatory agency from 1987 to 2006.
The entire op-ed, in fact, stresses the need for higher capital requirements — to the extent that Greenspan wants to discard Dodd-Frank entirely once they are reached — while ignoring that, when he was in a position to enforce higher capital requirements for two decades, he took a pass.
In 2004, the Greenspan Fed agreed to allow banks to have a lower capital ratio for mortgages, under international capital rules. The Fed’s rules explicitly stated that mortgages had lower risk, encouraging banks to load up on mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. Banks liked this at the time, because they could earn more profits by borrowing money and increasing leverage. And Greenspan raised no objection.
Analysts and politicians of both parties have argued in favor of higher capital requirements. But only Alan Greenspan had 20 years to actually operationalize such a policy. Greenspan is part of a long line of former public officials who suddenly figure out the one policy that would fix everything right at the moment when they lose their authority to implement it.
The post Greenspan Imagines Better, Alternate Universe in Which Greenspan Was Not Fed Chair appeared first on The Intercept.
HEN JEROMY DARLING WAS 26, he worked in a warehouse that was so big he rode a bike to get around it. One day, as he was pedaling from one place to another, his foot slipped and he bumped his groin on the crossbar. The initial pain was no surprise. What was odd, though, was that the spot he hit continued to hurt for days. Darling was athletic and hearty and, like many young people, hadn’t seriously entertained the possibility of illness. But when the pain persisted, he went to a doctor, who diagnosed him with testicular cancer.
Darling had two surgeries to treat the disease — one to remove his testicle and another to remove lymph nodes from his abdomen. The second left him with 76 staples and a profound exhaustion. It was several months before he was able to return to work, and many more before he felt like himself again. Back then, in 1998, it didn’t occur to Darling to question why he got sick. He just chalked it up to bad luck and focused on getting better.
Now 43 and living in Parkersburg, West Virginia, just a few miles from where he grew up in Belpre, Ohio, Darling has other theories about his cancer. Both towns are within “the Chemical Valley,” which encompasses the hilly area of western West Virginia and eastern Ohio and is home to many big chemical companies.
DuPont’s Washington Works plant, one of the area’s biggest private employers, sits in a bend of the Ohio River just across the water from Belpre. Lately Darling can’t help but think that the sprawling facility, whose smokestacks still poke into the sky near his home, was responsible for his bad luck.
T MAY HAVE BEEN LUCK, too — good or bad, depending on what side of the case you’re on — that led the attorney Robert Bilott to sue the DuPont company. In any case, he was an unlikely person to take on one of the world’s largest chemical companies. A partner at a corporate firm in Cincinnati, Bilott had spent his first eight years as an attorney on the other side of the table, defending large companies like DuPont. But in 1999 a cattle farmer named Wilbur Tennant came to see him. Tennant told him that DuPont had bought land from his family that was adjacent to his farm, for what the company had assured him would be a non-hazardous landfill, according to a letter Bilott later filed with the Environmental Protection Agency. Soon, a stream his cows drank from started to run smelly and black, with a layer of foam floating on the surface. Within a few years, hundreds of Tennant’s cattle had died. Bilott had no way of knowing at the time that what seemed like a straightforward case would lead to one of the most significant class-action lawsuits in the history of environmental law.
In 2000, after spending more than a year on the case, Bilott still didn’t have any idea what had killed the cows. None of the chemicals DuPont had informed him about could explain the die-off. DuPont even agreed to do a study with the EPA on what might have caused the deaths. The study concluded that the Tennants must have mismanaged their animals, declaring that “there was no evidence of toxicity associated with chemical contamination of the environment.”
It was only after one of the attorneys working on the case stumbled across a document that mentioned a compound called PFOA that he began to solve the mystery. Known within the chemical industry as a “surfactant,” because it reduces the surface tension of water, PFOA — short for perfluorooctanoic acid — was slippery, chemically stable, and a critical ingredient in the manufacture of hundreds of products, including Teflon. Almost no one had heard of the stuff back then. Also called C8 because of the eight-carbon chain that makes up its chemical backbone, PFOA was just one of tens of thousands of unregulated industrial substances manufactured and used by American companies without any significant oversight by environmental or health authorities.
After more digging, the lawyers learned that the Minnesota-based company 3M had just pulled a similar perfluorinated compound, called PFOS, from the market. That led Bilott to make a request that changed the course of the trial about the cows, his career, and the future of the chemical giant he was facing: He asked for all of DuPont’s documentation pertaining to PFOA, or C8, through the legal discovery process.
What he received made it clear that even as the company had been pleading ignorance over what might possibly have killed Tennant’s cows, some DuPont employees were very well aware that C8 had seeped into local water. In fact, company scientists had been charting its presence in the Ohio River and nearby drinking water for almost two decades, and had been documenting its health effects since 1954, just three years after DuPont first used the chemical in one of its signature brands: Teflon.
The documents Bilott received included studies showing that the company had known C8 could affect the livers of dogs and humans. The studies also indicated that C8 encouraged the growth of testicular tumors in rats, that exposed workers suffered more frequently from endocrine disorders, and that the company had also documented elevated rates of certain cancers, including kidney cancer, in workers. Bilott learned that the company had been quietly monitoring public drinking water outside its plant and, since 1984, had been documenting C8’s presence at potentially dangerous levels. As far back as 1991, DuPont had estimated the C8 in a stream from which cattle drank at 100 parts per billion — which was 100 times greater than an internal safety limit the company had set for drinking water. In 2001, DuPont quickly settled the Tennant case for an undisclosed sum.
8 MIGHT SIMPLY have remained a problem for cows if not for another unlikely environmentalist, a Parkersburg elementary school gym teacher and former field coordinator for the AFL-CIO named Joe Kiger. When he first got a letter in October 2000 from the Lubeck Public Service District, the company that provides his drinking water, Kiger almost tossed it. It’s easy to see why. Though it was in regular-sized type, the letter had the tone of pharmaceutical fine print — purposefully impenetrable while also clearly designed not to alarm. The district routinely monitored water, it explained, and the detection of something called PFOA didn’t necessarily mean that it posed any health risk.
Kiger put the letter aside, but a few weeks later, after a friend was diagnosed with cancer, he went back and reread it. What exactly was this chemical, PFOA? And why was Lubeck telling him about it if it really didn’t pose any health risk? He decided to approach the water district and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection with these questions. But when he did, he sensed he was being summarily — and nervously — dismissed, which made the teacher only more determined to get answers.
It took months of calls and visits to government offices before someone at the local branch of the federal EPA, who had heard that the Tennant suit had something to do with PFOA, pointed Kiger toward Bilott. The lawyer realized then that the entire water district, which today serves more than 4,000 customers, had been contaminated. In 2001, Bilott filed a class-action suit on behalf of all the people in the area who were exposed to C8-contaminated water — a group that eventually included Kiger and his wife, Darlene, as well as Jeromy Darling, Ken Wamsley, and Sue Bailey among the roughly 80,000 class members who lived or worked in six public water systems near the DuPont plant in Parkersburg.
Kiger didn’t realize it then, but drafts of the notification letter, despite being on the letterhead of Lubeck Public Service District, had been reviewed by DuPont, as a former public affairs manager for DuPont named Craig Skaggs admitted when he was deposed in 2002. Had much more time elapsed before Kiger went back to the letter or before he found someone in a public office who was helpful to him, the statute of limitations that had been triggered by the letter might have run out. According to West Virginia law, two years after they had been officially notified of the contamination, anyone exposed to C8 by drinking the Lubeck water would have lost their right to sue.
VEN CONSIDERING THE remarkable persistence (and luck) of Joe Kiger, Rob Bilott, and Wilbur Tennant, the person who did the most to turn a relatively small dispute over cattle into a mega class-action suit was actually employed by DuPont. Bernard Reilly had been an in-house counsel at DuPont since 1977, and for most of that time he worked in the environmental group within the company’s legal department. Reilly was assigned to help with the Tennant case, and he was worried about the possibility of somehow letting potentially incriminating information he was working on slip out. “Each time you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and create a new document,” he warned his colleagues in an email he sent in September 2000, “assume you will have the plaintiffs’ lawyers as recipients since we must produce each and every such document unless it is attorney/client privilege.”“The lawyer for the farmer finally realizes the surfactant issue. He is threatening to go to the press to embarrass us to pressure us to settle for big bucks. Fuck him.”
Yet ironically it was Reilly himself who spilled the beans about C8 when he sent personal emails about the chemical through the company’s computer system. Consequently, just as Reilly had warned, when Bilott asked for C8-related materials in discovery, he received Reilly’s emails, which made clear not just that the company was hiding something, but also that he himself had become part of the story. One of Reilly’s emails, for instance, contained the following passage: “The lawyer for the farmer finally realizes the surfactant issue. He is threatening to go to the press to embarrass us to pressure us to settle for big bucks. Fuck him.”
Reilly wrote many of his emails, often to his son, from his vacation property in Vermont between October 1998 and May 2002 and interspersed musings about home repair, Otto the family dog, and his favorite snack food (goldfish cashew and almond nutty deluxe snack mix), with candid updates on his legal efforts concerning C8, which he referred to as “the material 3M sells us that we poop to the river and into drinking water.”
Reilly’s emails made clear that he felt the company had done wrong, first by polluting and then by not addressing the problem once it became known. He even revealed that the company knew the level of contamination had exceeded its own safety limits.
Not only do we have people drinking our famous surfactant, but levels in ambient air above our guidelines, sure we have margins of safety in our number, but we should have checked this out years ago and taken steps to remedy, guess the hills on the other side of the river cause great conditions for ambient levels, the plume hits them before it can disperse more fully. Ugh.
The DuPont lawyer was referring to his employer’s “Community Exposure Guidelines,” which specified safety limits of C8 in both air and water that were meant to protect the people living near the plant. Using what they knew about the chemical’s health effects and how long it remained in human tissue, staff scientists in 1991 had set this drinking water guideline at one part per billion. A level measured above that would present a “risk that needs to be disclosed to the community,” one document explained.
Yet the company hadn’t disclosed — or remedied — the problem, even when it measured C8 above that amount. Instead, in 1991, just months after realizing that the level of C8 in Lubeck’s water had exceeded DuPont’s guideline, the company decided to use a new lab to analyze C8 levels in water.
The new lab came up with C8 levels that were, on average, much lower than the results of DuPont’s in-house lab.
Y THE TIME THE lawsuits were underway, the company decided to find a lab that would more accurately measure the chemical. In 2001, as Reilly explained to his son, it switched back “to a much better analytical method that may bring in numbers that will alarm citizens.”
We learned recently that our analytical technique has very poor recovery, often 25%, so any results we get should be multiplied by a factor of 4 or even 5. However, that has not been the practice, so we have been telling the agencies results that are certainly low. Not a pretty situation, especially since we have been telling the drinking water folks not to worry, results have been under the level we deem “safe” of 1 ppb. We now fear we will get data from a better technique that will exceed the number we have touted as safe. Ugh.
Reilly had been fretting over the company’s responsibility for the contamination for some time. “We really should not let situations arise like this,” he wrote to his son in 1999. “We should have used a commercial landfill and let them deal with these issues.” And he also offered some hints as to why a corporation would knowingly let a toxic chemical seep into ground and water beyond its facility.
The plant tries to save money and apparently did not consider how it might look that this guy’s cows are drinking the rainwater that has percolated through our waste.
When he was deposed in June 2015, though, Reilly said he didn’t mean to suggest that DuPont should have to pay punitive damages.
Reilly, or “The Bernard,” as he signs off on occasion, apparently wasn’t privy to much of what DuPont knew about C8’s effects on humans — and, at least in 1998, didn’t think it harmed them. But he did know there was plenty of evidence that the chemical made lab animals sick. As he made clear to his son, the company was planning to conduct a primate study in 1999, together with 3M, which supplied DuPont with C8. 3M had conducted a monkey study 20 years before that produced disturbing, though not conclusive, findings.
Even before the new primate study was completed, however, Reilly clearly grasped the severity of DuPont’s legal problems. Apparently, though, he thought some of his higher-ups did not. While DuPont pressed for a trial in the Tennant case, he felt that going to trial was a bad idea and, as he wrote to his son in 1999, he took it upon himself to “describe to the plant folks why the guy who is suing us over his cattle grazing downstream of our landfill would crucify us before a jury. … Most simply do not believe how big and bad we would look.”
Preliminary results from the monkey study, released in 1999, only made DuPont look worse. The results showed that C8 caused monkeys to lose weight and made their livers increase in size. The hope had been to find a level at which there were no observable effects. But because even animals given the lowest doses of the chemical experienced enlargement of their livers, and one was so ill it had to be euthanized, no safe level was set after the study.
But DuPont clearly wasn’t ready to give up on its surfactant. Although 3M had decided to stop making C8 in May 2000, just months after the preliminary results of the monkey study were released, DuPont moved to start producing C8 in a new production facility in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Before the plant opened it issued a reassuring statement to the people in the area surrounding the facility: “DuPont has used [C8] for more than 50 years with no observed health effects in workers.” Charles Holliday, the company’s CEO at the time, testified in a sworn deposition in 2004 that after overseeing “very extensive scientific analysis” he believed the chemical was “safe in the way we use and handle it.”
N SEPTEMBER 2004, DuPont agreed to settle the class-action suit filed by Bilott’s firm and two others, which covered a class that had ballooned to 80,000 people in six water districts. The agreement was approved in early 2005 for an amount that could reach $343 million and was unusual in a number of ways. Generally, a legal settlement marks the end of a case, when attorneys and clients divvy up the cash and move on. Because the burden of proving that exposure to an unregulated chemical causes health problems is so onerous, plaintiffs who get any money in such cases may be especially inclined to let the matter drop. But the 2005 settlement of the C8 class-action lawsuit was also a beginning. Instead of just cutting checks, the agreement created a health project to collect medical information on the exposed population and determine whether exposure to C8 had actually harmed people.
At first, some doubted that the health project could enroll enough people to be useful; huge numbers of participants are usually necessary to show that a chemical causes harm. But the team of local researchers, headed by a retired physician named Paul Brooks and a former hospital administrator named Arthur Maher, threw themselves into the task. In part by offering each participant $400, they managed to interview and collect blood samples from 69,000 people who had lived or worked in the six affected water districts for at least a year.
The settlement also created a separate group called the C8 Science Panel composed of three physicians, Kyle Steenland, Tony Fletcher, and David Savitz, who all had backgrounds in epidemiology and public health and were chosen and approved by both teams of lawyers. The science panel used the blood samples and questionnaires from the health project and also conducted its own studies, which were published in peer-reviewed journals and posted on the science panel’s public website, to determine whether any diseases were linked. If they were, the agreement said, DuPont would filter the local water for as long as concentrations of C8 exceeded regulations and set aside $235 million for ongoing medical monitoring of the community. Plus, any of the class members who developed the linked diseases would be entitled to sue for personal injury. DuPont, moreover, agreed not to contest the fact that exposure to the chemical could cause the diseases.
By the time the C8 Science Panel completed its work in 2013, its members had spent eight years and around $33 million exploring the connections between C8 and human health. The panel even came up with a model that could estimate residents’ exposure levels based on where they lived and historical concentrations of C8 in air, groundwater, and the Ohio River. Linking that information to health data helped the three scientists find likely connections to six diseases: high cholesterol; a form of bowel disease called ulcerative colitis; pregnancy-induced hypertension; thyroid disease; testicular cancer; and kidney cancer.
Their results skewered DuPont’s hopes that its animal data might not apply to humans. They also flew in the face of a long-held belief about how chemicals affect people: that the dose makes the poison. That truism, generally attributed to the work of the 16th-century physician Paracelsus, has served as one of the starting points of modern toxicology. And this logic may have led DuPont scientists to conclude, or at least hope, that the small amounts of C8 people living near the plant ingested wouldn’t hurt them.
But Paracelsus hadn’t heard about endocrine disruptors, a recently discovered class of chemicals, to which C8 belongs, that interfere with the hormonal system. When graphed against the amount of chemical exposure, the health effects of endocrine disruptors often don’t take the expected form — an upward sloping line, with the lowest point on the left, where doses are lowest, and the effects steadily increasing along with the exposure levels. Instead, when plotted, the effects of endocrine disruptors can look like an upside down “V” or an upward slope with a dent in the middle, reflecting the fact that effects can, at certain levels, drop even as exposure increases.
Even though the level of C8 contamination required for a water district to become part of the class-action suit was low — just .05 ppb — the data gathered from class members showed apparent health effects. That limit had been chosen because at the time it was the lowest level that could be reliably measured.
The science panel data has since been used to link C8 with other effects beyond those six diseases, but according to the terms of the suit, the list of diseases cannot be amended. The attorneys’ clear-cut solution fell short of capturing the messy science of epidemiology. According to panel member David Savitz, a professor of epidemiology at Brown University, scientists still haven’t untangled all of the ties between C8 and disease. “It is quite possible, even likely, that some of the diseases we found no probable link for will, in time, turn out to be related to C8,” he said. Of course, as a careful scientist, Savitz knows that the contrary is true as well, because everything in science is potentially falsifiable. “But it’s also quite likely that some of the diseases for which we did declare a probable link will turn out, with improved research, to have been incorrectly judged when they are not associated with risk of those diseases. There was very little research done before the C8 Science Panel’s work, and while we extended the research considerably, it was and remains quite limited for drawing firm judgments.” It’s that permanent and irresolvable uncertainty that companies like DuPont are so adept at exploiting.
However, recent studies published in peer-reviewed journals such as Human Reproduction, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and The Journal of Pediatrics have tied C8 to an incredible range of health effects, including ovarian cancer; prostate cancer; lymphoma; reduced fertility; arthritis; hyperactivity and altered immune responses in children; and hypotonia, or “floppiness,” in infants.
AD THE C8 HEALTH project not reached the number of people it did, or had the science panel not been as diligent about crunching all the data, epidemiologists might not have been able to recognize the elevated disease rates for what they were. In the water district with the highest level of exposure — Little Hocking, Ohio — there were eight cases of testicular cancer, a seemingly small number that is five times what would be expected in an unexposed population of that size. For kidney cancer, the rate of disease was up to two times higher than usual.
The link to high cholesterol, while clear enough to have been recognized and agreed upon by all three physicians on the science panel, also might have been missed because the study results were so nuanced. Yet in part because the study was so large, the researchers were able to show that the greater a person’s exposure to C8, the greater his or her chance of having elevated cholesterol.
Together, these diseases became part of a pattern. Considered in isolation, however, each illness is typically seen as a chance occurrence, which is what Jodie Boylen thought when she was diagnosed with kidney cancer. A lawyer who works on child neglect cases in the prosecutor’s office in Parkersburg, Boylen had been feeling exhausted before her doctor found her tumor in 2013. At that point, the link between C8 and kidney cancer had already been made by the science panel data, though she hadn’t heard about it. When she did, from a colleague who was working on the class-action case, she joined the class. Boylen also began thinking about the house she had lived in with her three children between 1989 and 1998. Not only was it in one of the affected water districts, their house was right on the shore of Lake Washington, a small body of water that was just a mile from the DuPont plant. “We drank it. We swam in that lake every day we could,” Boylen, now 53, remembered recently. “We lived in that lake in the summer.”
Boylen had surgery to remove her kidney tumor in 2013 and is hopeful that the cancer won’t return. But she still worries about her children. “They were in the water more than I was, they went to school in that district,” she said in a recent interview in her Parkersburg home. “What’s going to happen to them in a couple of years?”
Jeromy Darling, too, is now cancer-free. But 17 years after his diagnosis, the financial legacy of his ordeal is still with him. Because he was uninsured at the time of his illness, he wound up declaring bankruptcy after being hit with more than $75,000 in bills for his surgeries. “I had all the good cards, all the good interest rates. All that went away,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s embarrassing. I work forty-plus hours a week and I can’t get a credit card now.”
Darling was unable to buy a house because he couldn’t get a mortgage, so his girlfriend of 20 years bought their current home by herself. And he hasn’t married her because he didn’t want his bad credit history to rub off on her good one. The couple even changed their plans about having children together after Darling’s doctors told him his sperm count was greatly reduced due to his cancer diagnosis. “We didn’t try because you don’t want to have that disappointment,” he said. “It’s almost better to put it out of your mind.”
When they got together, each of them had already had one child. Like Boylen, Darling is focused on the children’s health and the fact that they grew up in the chemical valley, drinking the same C8-contaminated water he did.
O DATE, SOME 3,500 personal injury claims have been filed as part of the 2005 class-action settlement. The first trial, scheduled for September in Columbus, Ohio, takes up the case of Carla Bartlett, who maintains that her kidney cancer was caused by exposure to C8. Attorneys for DuPont, because of the terms of the class-action settlement, will be unable to contest the general causal connection between kidney cancer and C8 exposure, but they will almost certainly argue that other factors are more likely to be responsible. The deposition of a DuPont expert named Douglas Weed suggests a possible line of attack: that Bartlett, who lives just a few miles downriver from the DuPont plant, developed the cancer because she’s overweight. Or, perhaps, just by chance.
The role of luck — that two things often correlate just by chance — was a major point of Weed’s testimony, for which DuPont paid the former employee of the National Cancer Institute more than $100,000. During his deposition in March 2015, the doctor estimated that since leaving the government agency eight years ago he has made between $5 million and $6 million providing expert testimony to companies in such corporate defense cases.
Surely, after all that they’ve endured, Bartlett, Darling, Boylen, and the other plaintiffs would agree that sometimes bad things just happen. But their list of unfortunate — and unlikely — occurrences would no doubt include the leakage of a toxic and biologically potent chemical into their water and the subsequent contamination of their bodies, where it may have caused diseases that have forever changed their lives.
Perhaps the most remarkable and unlikely occurrence of all is not the fact that the contamination happened, or even that it turned out to be harmful, but that it was discovered. It’s easy to imagine how — without Tennant, Bilott, or Kiger; without Reilly’s revealing emails; and without the exuberance of the health project and the diligence of the science panel — DuPont’s secrets might never have emerged. Had the stars aligned that way, C8 would still be largely unknown, just one of the tens of thousands of unregulated chemicals we don’t notice as they silently pollute our world.
EDITOR’S NOTE: DuPont, asked to respond to the allegations contained in this article, declined to comment due to pending litigation.
In previous statements and court filings, however, DuPont has consistently denied that it did anything wrong or broke any laws. In settlements reached with regulatory authorities and in the class-action suit, DuPont has made clear that those agreements were compromise settlements regarding disputed claims and that the settlements did not constitute an admission of guilt or wrongdoing. Likewise, in response to the personal injury claims of Jodie Boylen, Jeromy Darling, and others, DuPont has rejected all charges of wrongdoing and maintained that their injuries were “proximately caused by acts of God and/or by intervening and/or superseding actions by others, over which DuPont had no control.” DuPont also claimed that it “neither knew, nor should have known, that any of the substances to which Plaintiff was allegedly exposed were hazardous or constituted a reasonable or foreseeable risk of physical harm by virtue of the prevailing state of the medical, scientific and/or industrial knowledge available to DuPont at all times relevant to the claims or causes of action asserted by Plaintiff.”
When contacted by The Intercept for comment, 3M provided the following statement. “In more than 30 years of medical surveillance we have observed no adverse health effects in our employees resulting from their exposure to PFOS or PFOA. This is very important since the level of exposure in the general population is much lower than that of production employees who worked directly with these materials,” said Dr. Carol Ley, 3M vice president and corporate medical director. “3M believes the chemical compounds in question present no harm to human health at levels they are typically found in the environment or in human blood.”Read “DuPont and the Chemistry of Deception,” Part 1 of The Teflon Toxin Coming next: Part 3, How DuPont slipped past the EPA
This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.
Alleen Brown, Hannah Gold, and Sheelagh McNeill contributed to this story.
The Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE, is best known for its pathbreaking role in organizing acts designed to confront and end apartheid in America, from the Freedom Rides throughout the South to the pivotal March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
Now the group — or what’s left of it — protests against black protesters.
Roy Innis, who took control of CORE in 1968, dramatically transformed the group’s mission from racial integration to black separatism — and eventually to lobbying on behalf of corporate interests and the police state.
His son, Niger Innis, now the group’s spokesman, appears on Fox News and other conservative media outlets throughout the country denouncing Black Lives Matters and claiming to be a representative of the civil rights movement. Discussing the one-year anniversary of the police killing of Michael Brown on a television program on August 11, for instance, Niger Innis called Black Lives Matter protesters as a “bunch of vultures coming in from places like New York and California” who came to Ferguson only to cause trouble.
Modern civil rights advocates, for their part, bristle at the media platform given to CORE. “Mainstream media uses these groups in an attempt to denounce the importance of police reform and accountability in the wake of the shooting deaths of numerous unarmed black people across this country,” Nekima Levy-Pounds, a Black Lives Matter activist and law professor at the University of St. Thomas, told The Intercept.
CORE, she said, now provides rhetoric that “reinforces a white supremacist view” of Black Lives Matter. CORE did not respond to a request for comment.
During the August 11 program, Niger Innis derisively compared the confrontational tactics of Black Lives Matters protesters to the Black Panthers, claiming that such strategies were rejected by his father, who Niger said sought reform only through proactive solutions. “The only thing that my father was protesting in those days was that he wanted more blacks on the police force,” Innis chuckled.
But Niger Innis’s portrayal of his father obscures a history that is far more complex. The Intercept compiled a history using primary source documents and investigative reports largely from Jet, the New York Times and New York magazine.
Roy Emil Alfredo Ennis was born in the Virgin Islands and immigrated to New York when he was in 13. Roy, who joined CORE after seeking to date a member of the organization, slowly began working his way up the leadership ranks. As the assistant to CORE leader Floyd McKissick, Roy Innis traveled the country, helping CORE — which at the time was an integrated, nonviolent civil rights group seeking an end to racial discrimination — set up new chapters.
In the years preceding Innis’s rise to leadership, CORE played an instrumental role in some of the most storied events in civil rights history. The group partnered with the NAACP to mobilize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Washington, as well as the Freedom Summer campaign in Mississippi. Many members, both white and black, faced police and vigilante violence. Three young CORE members were murdered by Klan supporters in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Indeed, CORE has been in the news in recent months because of the interest in Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who was a leader of CORE in Chicago in the early 1960s, and was arrested in college for participating in a protest of segregation in Chicago public schools.
The year 1968 brought new challenges and tragedy. On April 15, a postal worker shot and killed Innis’s son, Roy Jr., allegedly because he was bothered by the noise the boy was making outside of his apartment. The previous week, Dr. King had been assassinated in Memphis.
The turmoil following the death of King turned the tide on simmering divisions within CORE, with many claiming that they now distrusted the so-called “accommodationist” approach of nonviolence. The previous two years had seen a number of CORE chapters breaking away from the vision of CORE founder James Farmer, who sought an inclusive approach for ending racial segregation and discrimination in society.
In June of 1968, a slate of Black Nationalist leaders won election to the leadership of CORE with Innis as the new CORE chairman. Declaring the traditional civil rights era over, Innis changed the CORE constitution to ban white people from the organization, and explained that the change reflected “an era of Black Nationalism.” Innis also called for separate schools for African American children.
As Innis began to openly embrace Black Nationalism, he also began his pivot to the right. Just before he became the national CORE chair, Innis met covertly with Richard Nixon. Innis, according to an account from conservative journalist Robert Novak, worked to align community support for Nixon so he could one day serve as the “President’s man in the ghetto.” Nixon would go on to endorse a vision of “black capitalism.”
Lawyers from Nixon’s law firm even helped CORE draft proposed legislation providing economic support for African American-owned businesses.
Open support for the Republican ticket was difficult, but Innis’s comments in the press made his leanings clear. On “Meet the Press,” Innis did not explicitly endorse a candidate for president, but said, “I praise Nixon when he said that black nationalism is relevant.”
The Innis effort was part of a multifaceted attempt by the Nixon campaign to peel off black support from the Democratic Party. The White House tapes reveal conversations between Nixon and his aides about efforts to recruit and fund black presidential candidates with a “fourth party” during the 1972 election. His operatives privately referred to one such plan as “Operation Coal.”
The Nixon election victory in 1968, which markedly increased the GOP share of the black vote compared to the Barry Goldwater election in 1964, did not result in any appointments or official support for Innis.
Instead, the 1970s became a period of great drift for CORE, which continued down a path of militant Black Nationalism.
In 1972, Innis became the American consigliere for Ugandan strongman Idi Amin. As Jet reported, Innis developed programs to bring skilled American workers to help with Amin’s fledgling government. He also supported Amin’s brutal crackdown on non-Africans, including the decision to expel 80,000 people of Asian descent from Uganda. In a telegram, Innis said he “supports in spirit and fact” the deportation decision, calling Uganda “the ancestral homeland of African people [which] must operate first and foremost for the development of African people.”
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Innis fought off a number of attempts to oust him from the leadership of CORE. One lawsuit accused him of mishandling CORE’s finances. Former CORE leaders James Farmer and Floyd McKissick claimed that Innis had used CORE funds for “trips to Europe and Africa, prize fight tickets, lavish furniture, living expenses for themselves and estranged wives, and rent for personal living quarters.” In response, Innis charged the lawsuit was a “racist … political cheap trick.” In 1980, a group of dissident CORE leader voted in a new leader, Waverly Yates, head of CORE’s Washington affiliate, but Innis refused to hand over the chairmanship.
In 1986, the IRS fined Innis $56,000 in back taxes plus $28,000 in civil fraud penalties because of $116,000 in unreported income from CORE in the mid-1970s, which he allegedly spent on ”travel, apartment rent, jewelry, furniture, entertainment, and other personal items.”
As the years went on, Innis’s political agenda drifted to open support for the Republican Party, and he played a major role in the debates on crime and gun control. He openly campaigned for Ronald Reagan, and ran against New York Mayor David Dinkins for the mayoral Democratic primary in 1993. Also that year, CORE founder James Farmer declared, “CORE has no functioning chapters; it holds no conventions, no elections, no meetings, sets no policies, has no social programs and does no fund-raising. In my opinion, CORE is fraudulent.”
As Niger Innis recounted on a 2013 appearance with AACONS, an African American online radio program, his father’s support for police organizations and Rudy Giuliani paved the way for the stop-and-frisk programs that Niger Innis claimed have reduced urban crime. “Part of the partnership” between community groups and law enforcement, Niger Innis said, “is criminal profiling, not racial profiling.”
Over the last 25 years, CORE has morphed almost completely into an organization that lends African American support to causes linked to its corporate donors. As Mother Jones reported in 2005, CORE took money from Monsanto and mobilized opposition to regulations on Monsanto products. After receiving $40,000 in contributions from ExxonMobil, CORE organized protests in support of ExxonMobil at their shareholder meeting. With funds from the National Rifle Association, of which Roy Innis is now a board member, CORE has filed amicus briefs claiming that gun control laws stem from racism in society.
Niger Innis now simultaneously works as a Tea Party leader and CORE’s chief spokesperson, and is a frequent speaker at conservative events. “My organization, the Congress of Racial Equality, fought side by side with Dr. King and Americans of all colors,” Niger Innis declared at an Americans for Prosperity-organized event in Wisconsin. “For my well-paid brothers at the NAACP,” he intoned, “if you’re looking for a racist at this crowd, he’s right here! … I am a racist and a racial partisan for the human race!”
Last year, Niger Innis ran an unsuccessful campaign for Congress as a Republican in Nevada.
And these days, Roy and his son Niger are favorites of the conservative movement. Presenting a prize to Roy Innis at the CPAC convention in 2010, NRA president Wayne LaPierre called him “a real American hero, his story should be taught in every American school and it should be admired by every patriot.”
Caption: Roy Innis with George W. Bush in 2000.
The post The Long Sad Slide From Leading Civil Rights Organization to Anti-Black Lives Matter Group appeared first on The Intercept.
Hunderte Braunkohle-Gegner haben am Samstag den rheinischen Tagebau Garzweiler gestürmt und einige von ihnen einen Riesenbagger besetzt. RWE Power als Betreiber stoppte aus Sicherheitsgründen die Betriebsanlagen. Die Polizei beendete die Besetzung des achtzig Meter hohen und zweihundert Meter langen Baggers nach einigen Stunden und erstattete fast achthundert Strafanzeigen.
Bei den lange im Voraus angekündigten Aktionen betraten nach Polizeiangaben mehr als achthundert Umweltaktivisten das Betriebsgelände des Tagebaus. Die Veranstalter sprachen von 1500. Sie durchbrachen Polizeisperren und lieferten sich über Stunden Auseinandersetzungen mit der Polizei, die Pfefferspray und Schlagstöcke einsetzte. Die Polizei gab die Zahl der Verletzten mit 36 an, darunter 15 Beamte.
Innerhalb von nur drei Tagen sind auf verschiedenen griechischen Ägäisinseln insgesamt 1728 Flüchtlinge aufgegriffen worden. Die Menschen stammten überwiegend aus Syrien, wie ein Offizier am Montag der Deutschen Presse-Agentur sagte. Neben den größeren Inseln wie Lesbos, Chios und Samos kamen Flüchtlinge auch auf den kleineren Eilanden Agathonisi, Kalolimnos und Megisti an. Die Mehrzahl wolle nach West- und Nordeuropa weiterreisen, hieß es. Griechische Medien berichteten unter Berufung auf die Küstenwache, es werde bis zum Jahresende mit bis zu 250 000 Flüchtlingen aus dem Nahen Osten gerechnet.
Der griechische Geheimdienst EYP ist nach übereinstimmenden Medienberichten bereits auf den Inseln mit Mitarbeitern anwesend. Es
Im libyschen Sirte haben Kämpfer der Miliz Islamischer Staat einen Aufstand gegen ihre Terrorherrschaft niedergeschlagen -
Von THOMAS EIPELDAUER, 17. August 2015 -
Fünf Tage lang hatten Rebellen in der Heimatstaat des früheren Machthabers Muammar al-Gaddafi gegen die Terrormiliz Islamischer Staat (IS) gekämpft. Regionalen Medien zufolge hatten sich vor allem Angehörige des Ferjani-Stammes gegen den IS erhoben, nachdem dieser einen konservativen Kleriker, Khalid bin Rajab Ferjani, ermordet hatte. Khalid bin Rajab Ferjani soll zuvor den Dschihadisten die Kontrolle über die Moschee, in der er als Imam tätig ist, verweigert haben. (1)
Kämpfer des Ferjani-Stammes hatten daraufhin zum Aufstand gegen den Islamischen Staat
I turned away more than once while watching Stanley Nelson’s documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. I averted my eyes from the screen when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s nefarious mug first appeared. I turned away once more when the charismatic and admirable Fred Hampton was first shown, knowing that eventually he would be murdered by Chicago police and federal agents.
But, of course, I could never turn away for long, because Nelson’s documentary is something all Americans should watch to better understand the country’s current racial climate, including the formation of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign.
The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter first entered public consciousness after George Zimmerman’s acquittal, in July 2013, on charges of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Three activists, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, are credited with coining the phrase. Tellingly, it wasn’t until a year later — in August 2014 when a white police officer killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri — that the hashtag gained greater prominence and morphed into an enduring movement against police brutality.
I write “tellingly” because many black American riots can be traced back to an act of police violence. For black citizens, particularly those who are economically disadvantaged, the police are the most consistent and cruel representatives of the white supremacist state. It makes sense then that the same origin story would be true for the revolutionary Black Panthers, who organized after police killed a black person 49 years ago.
Nelson’s documentary, which he spent seven years making, opens with the organization’s founding in Oakland, California, in October 1966, after the death of Matthew Johnson. Johnson’s death convinced Panthers co-founders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale of the need for a different, more proactive black movement. In Newton’s mind it was time for black Americans to defend themselves against police violence.
The Oakland Police Department, like so many today, was notorious for its treatment of black residents. The Panthers, legally armed with guns after Johnson’s death, began following the Oakland police around to monitor their actions. Whenever the police made a stop, armed Panthers were there, ensuring no racist harassment or brutality would take place.
One of the great virtues of Nelson’s film is the opportunity to see rare footage. There’s a clip of John Lennon, dressed in a Boston Red Sox jersey, chatting on a talk show with Black Panthers. And there’s the scene of Bobby Seale, depicted with court sketches and audio, gagged and tied to a chair during a trial because he kept calling the presiding judge a “racist, pig, fascist, liar.”
Given the Panthers’ cultural significance, it’s surprising that The Black Panthers is the first documentary to present a thorough examination of the group. (I omit from consideration the vapid and cartoonish 1995 docudrama Panther.) And the film is replete with information many viewers will find new. Nelson reminds us that one of the first major public displays of black power occurred when the Panthers entered the California legislature in Sacramento, armed with guns. Another surprising detail was that after Hoover declared war on the Panthers in the late ’60s, 233 of 295 domestic covert actions by the FBI aimed at black nationalist groups were directed against the Panthers. Undercover agents infiltrated the group almost from the very beginning. It was also news to me that the first known SWAT raid in American history was against the Black Panthers in Los Angeles, just five days after the notorious assassination of Illinois Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.
The 116-minute film leaves viewers wanting more, however. Nelson barely touches on the subject of Newton’s alleged shooting of a white Oakland police officer during a traffic stop in October 1967. Likewise, Newton’s struggle with a crack cocaine addiction later in life, and his 1989 killing by a drug dealer, receive little attention in Nelson’s documentary.
The film does, however, focus on Eldridge Cleaver, the eccentric Panther who along with Seale and Newton composed the Panthers’ powerful Troika. Some of the most exciting storytelling occurs when the documentary recounts how Cleaver fled the U.S. for Cuba, and then Africa, after being charged with attempted murder following a botched attack on the police. Nelson also focuses on how Cleaver, before his death, renounced his radical past and converted to Mormonism. In 1958 Cleaver was convicted of assault during an attempted rape, though Nelson doesn’t mention it except in passing. But with so much attention given to Cleaver’s antics, Nelson ignores the radical substance of the Panthers.
Former Panther Elaine Brown, writing in the Daily Beast, accused Nelson of “excising from his film the Party’s ideological foundation and political strategies, despite the wealth of published materials articulating the Party’s goals and ideals, reducing our activities to sensationalist engagements, as snatched from establishment media headlines.”
The colorful characters who made up the Panthers may provide a cautionary example for the young activists leading Black Lives Matter. Big personalities and internal conflict helped to tear the group apart, but so too did interference and disruption from the racist FBI. Like the Panthers, Black Lives Matter has struggled with refashioning and expanding its missions. The Panthers began a successful breakfast program in Oakland that gave free meals to young people, and attempted to start black businesses with the hope of constructing an economic foundation for black Americans. Black Lives Matter doesn’t seem quite sure where it wants to go next, though some St. Louis activists are attempting to organize black people around economic issues such as the Fight for $15 campaign.
Despite the struggles and the growing pains, Black Lives Matters represents, for the first time since the civil rights era, a social movement focused on battling American racism that has energized black Americans all around the country.
Perhaps the most important lesson that Black Lives Matter, and the rest of us, can learn from Nelson’s film can be encapsulated in an insight from Bobby Seale, which comes in the documentary’s closing scenes: “You don’t fight racism with racism, the best way to fight racism is with solidarity.”
The post Rising Up Against Police Violence, From the Black Panthers to #BlackLivesMatter appeared first on The Intercept.
James Baldwin’s FBI file contains 1,884 pages of documents, collected from 1960 until the early 1970s. During that era of illegal surveillance of American writers, the FBI accumulated 276 pages on Richard Wright, 110 pages on Truman Capote, and just nine pages on Henry Miller. Baldwin’s file was closer in size to activists and radicals of the day — for example, it’s nearly half as thick as Malcolm X’s.
In his new biography, All Those Strangers, Douglas Field decodes these files with great literary and historical finesse. Baldwin often said that his relation to politics was that of a “witness,” but he was vehemently stalked, harassed and even censored by the FBI. Field asserts that after looking through Baldwin’s FBI file, it’s clear his phone was tapped and that government agents, posing as publishers or car salesmen, followed him as he traveled to France, Britain and Italy.
The biography has landed at a particularly sharp moment in our awareness of government surveillance. We now have not only the National Security Agency and its global spying, but the FBI and local law enforcement agencies targeting political activists, such as supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. And the NYPD, for instance, has its own counterterrorism unit that has surveilled entire communities.
Why did the FBI spy on Baldwin? He was a novelist, essayist and critic, one of the most distinguished writers and thinkers of his time. His skin was black, his sexuality fluid, and his politics tended toward the left, a combination that was enough to turn him into a target for the FBI.
Yet looking at his FBI file, even the most basic facts of his life are riddled with inaccuracies. There is, for instance, a description of Baldwin as “white, early 20s, 6′, neat.” In another file, Baldwin is listed as the author of “Go Tell It to the Mountains” and “Another World.” His first and third novels are in fact titled Go Tell It On The Mountain and Another Country. Such baffling errors read like a precursor to the ways in which bulk collection of metadata today often results in wellsprings of misinformation.Baldwin’s dossier reads like a long, poorly written novel itself — it is, in every sense, fiction produced by the state.
The FBI is not alone in trying, albeit comically at times, to identify Baldwin’s fingerprint. His critics and detractors were almost always obsessed with categorizing him too neatly, labeling him a black writer, a gay writer, a religious or a secular writer, an American or an expat. Field’s book as a whole poses the argument that Baldwin’s irreverent humanism evades simple literary detection, and the formerly classified documents fit soundly, even crudely, into this line of thought.
Baldwin is one of those few literary figures who incites commentary in whatever age he’s read, by whomever reads him. Over the course of the last few years, for example, his essays on police brutality (“the police are simply the hired enemies of this population,” he wrote) have been analyzed and instrumentalized for their prescience; they fit into Baldwin’s time as well as ours. The FBI documents have a modern cadence because the injustices of the past have only undergone light revisions.
The FBI’s interest in Baldwin began in 1960 when he was “connected with several Communist Party front groups.” In the following decade, Baldwin was targeted additionally for his ties to civil rights and black power movements. A note from a 1968 document concludes that Baldwin “had joined a growing movement of prominent individuals supporting the struggle of Oakland’s Black Panther Party.” Baldwin befriended some of the most famous black intellectuals and activists of the day, such as Harry Belafonte, Lorraine Hansberry and Nina Simone. He was writing at a time when the FBI, under the directorship of J. Edgar Hoover, opened files on some 250 artists, and also at the height of the FBI’s struggle against the Panthers and other black nationalists, through what would be later revealed as its Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO).
Baldwin was incredibly open about his stance on state surveillance. He once called Hoover “history’s most highly paid (and most utterly useless) voyeur.” He also wrote about his experience of being accosted by two agents: In his essay The Devil Finds Work, he wrote that in 1945 the agents walked him out of a diner, stood him against a wall and showered verbal abuse on him, under the pretense of trying to track down a deserter from the Marine Corps. In 1963, he contributed to the satirical collection A Quarter-Century of Un-Americana: A Tragi-comical Memorabilia of HUAC, in which he referred to the House Un-American Activities Committee as “one of the most sinister facts of the national life.” That same year, Baldwin told the New York Times, “I blame J. Edgar Hoover in part for events in Alabama. Negroes have no cause to have faith in the FBI.”
What is perhaps most interesting about the Baldwin dossier is that it reads like a long, poorly written novel itself — it is, in every sense, fiction produced by the state. Field notes that Baldwin’s FBI files, with their rampant inaccuracies, whited-out passages, and oddball observations “resemble difficult modernist texts.” This is generous of Field and points to the intellectual isolation of these documents. To me, the FBI texts are so stilted and boring that they read more like a blathering source code, the chaotic backend of an intelligence that tries to project ideological coherence at all times. There is perhaps a kind of logic to them, though recognizable only to those in the agency.
In contrast, Baldwin’s language — rife with the contradictions of an artist pushing at his limits — will always contain parts unknown, and remain a difficult, rewarding subject of criticism. It’s a sort of literary encryption, but with the tantalizing promise of revelation.
Hannah K. Gold is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer.
Maybe you’ve seen that Jeb Bush has refused to rule out more torture if he’s elected president. But what’s gone unnoticed — perhaps because Bush is so dreary it’s hard to listen to him without losing consciousness — is he actually said he’s “proud” of his brother’s torture policies.
BUSH: I do think, in general, that torture is not appropriate. It’s not as effective, uh, and the change of policy that my brother did and was then put into executive order form by the president was the proper thing to do. I also would say that right after 9/11, I mean, we were attacked, and, uh, my presid — my brother — and I’m not saying this because I’m a Bush, I’m saying this because I love this country just like everybody in this room — I’m proud of what he did to create a secure environment for our country.
Here are just a few of the things that Jeb Bush is “proud” of:
• The torture of people who were victims of mistaken identity. This included Khalid el-Masri, a German citizen, who was picked up in Macedonia while on vacation and then flown to Afghanistan’s “Salt Pit” black site, where the CIA proudly tortured him. When the CIA realized they had the wrong person, they flew him to Albania and proudly dumped him on the side of the road. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture made a “conservative calculation” that 22 percent of the CIA detainees were cases of proud, mistaken identity.
• Around 100 U.S. prisoners died during interrogations. A CIA interrogator proudly told a detainee he would never go on trial because “we can never let the world know what I have done to you.”
• The proud tradition of waterboarding, proudly embraced by his brother, was also a favorite torture method of Imperial Japan during World War II, Latin American dictatorships, and Cambodia’s genocidal Khmer Rouge. The U.S. convicted a Japanese officer of war crimes for using it. Many of the torture techniques used by the CIA and the military were proudly modeled on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain false confessions from American prisoners.
• The CIA proudly subjected at least five prisoners to “rectal rehydration” or “rectal feeding.” According to the Senate report, one prisoner’s lunch of “hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins was ‘pureed’ and rectally infused,” thus creating a secure environment for our country.
• An FBI interrogator explained in 2008 that U.S. torture policies had proudly “helped to recruit a new generation of jihadist martyrs” and predicted that “a day of reckoning will come.” Cherif Kouachi, one of the two brothers who killed the staff of Charlie Hebdo, was motivated to become a jihadist by the U.S. torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Despite all this, it should not go unnoticed that during Bush’s pro-torture remarks he was wearing a very nice, understated tie.
The post Bland Monster Jeb Bush “Proud” of His Brother’s Torturing People appeared first on The Intercept.