Wednesday, October 08, 2003

How to Attract Government Goons Without Really Trying

Part 2 in the Big Brother's MO Series!

I don't know how many parts I'll take to write this, but it is long overdue. My paranoia, my friends, is not a god-given talent, but a carefully cultivated skill, honed over years of bizarre political encounters.

We will not rehearse my entire fascinating and fairly futile history of political activism here, gentle reader, for that would try your patience too much. Instead, I will begin with a harrowing tale of The Coalition that Couldn't vs. the Couple in Black!!

I was a young, idealistic lad, who, for reasons I will not go into here, found myself in Los Angeles during the build-up to Gulf War 1. In fact, I was in Nagasaki when the actual bombing of Baghdad began, but that, too, is another story. I live for IRONY, neh?

Determined that we were facing an ARMAGEDDON OF OUR OWN MAKING, I looked for a way to get involved. I found it: The Los Angeles Coalition Against U.S. Intevention in the Middle East. I knew no one there, but wanted to volunteer my time. I was imprudently living off of some money my grandparents had given me and had lots of time to give.

No one at the office seemed to have much for me to do. The day to day operations were run by two fairly young people, Ahmed and Leila. (I'll be changing some of the names here, but that is too good of a pair of names to change. Say it out loud a few times: Ahmed and Leila).

But there was a woman who had PLENTY for me to do. It would be better, she said, if I were to come to her apartment for the tasks she had in mind. (No, this story isn't going there, though I wish the Russian prostitute part below had tipped a bit more in that direction.) Having been given her name by the folks at the Coalition office as one of the central leaders, I figured she must be okay and off I loped, hoping to MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

She...I guess I'll call her Betty...was dressed all in black with an impressive amount of dyed blonde hair. She looked as if she were permanently posing for a Glamor Shots portrait, and, indeed, had such a portrait on her business card. She and her husband had a small business basically running a rickshaw service in West L.A. No, I'm not making that up. I couldn't make that up. They would have young people pedal (not run) these bike/carriage looking things around the city for tourists, or lazy people or something like that.

Her husband I did not meet till later. It turned out that both of them wore black exclusively. He, I'll call him Bobo, was stocky, a little pudgy actually, with a bit of an underworld sort of vibe.

Politically naive as I was, I was eager to get going, despite the rather unprogressive feel to this woman. Her card advertised her as a "criminologist", not exactly a progressive activist top-ten profession. But it wasn't until later that it became obvious what she had ME doing for her. I was compiling a card catalogue of EVERY MEMBER OF THE COALITION. She said it was for a "speaker's bureau", but it was a file on every single person who had any significant involvement in the Coalition. I was organizing files for THE MAN.

That's depressing. I need to take a break from this narrative and curl up into a fetal position in a dark corner for awhile. Watch this video while you wait for me to return: War on Terrorism Expose.

All right, I'm back and will continue as best I can with upper lip and chin stiff and up.

Not only was this woman compiling these files, but she and Bobo had been given a great deal of control over the money. They, in fact, collected the contribution buckets that were passed out at the rallies and demonstrations.

I met some of the young people who worked for this rickshaw company, one of whom was basically homeless and living with them. He chanced to tell me one day that he'd seen Bobo dip into one of those money buckets to grab some cash. Bobo looked at him, smiled, and said that if he told anyone, he'd kill him. I don't know exactly how seriously this young man took the threat, but this did not seem proper behavior to me, so I sought out someone ( I don't remember whom) and let them know what I'd heard.

Next thing I know, I'm in a meeting at a Denny's or someplace with all these activists who are central to the Coalition. As this meeting got underway, Tim, (I'm not changing names of good guys, because I'm pretty sure they won't sue me) a fairly large and often gruff- looking man, glanced at me and grunted menacingly, "Who are you?" Tim subsequently became a good friend, but he meant business that night.

I told them what I knew, and that threw me right into the middle of a badly handled situation, the only upshot of which is some handy advice I've already dispensed in Big Brother's M.O. I'm telling this story now to illustrate those points and to prove that my paranoia is entirely professional in nature.

To continue on with this sordid tale. Many of the events that followed are jumbled in my mind. Some I didn't find out about till much later. For example, when one Coalition leader told Bobo he and his wife wouldn't be in charge of the money any more, Bobo threatened to, I believe his words were, "gouge her eyes out." Bobo had, in fact, bragged to some people of having a background as some sort of mercenary.

Tony Russo, whose name I mention because he is not nearly as well known as Daniel Ellsberg, whom he helped leak the Pentagon Papers, even mentioned that Bobo had offered "guns and drugs" if anyone needed any.

Okay, I know what you are saying. These guys are not police agents, they are CARICATURES of police agents. As obvious as it was, it still was not easy to get rid of these folks.

Here was the problem. The people who did most of the day-to-day work knew what was going on, but this was a coalition of many organizations, many of which only met with the whole group once every week or two. To them, these reports, finally presented by us in an amateurish and ill-advised way, appeared as personal grudges or sectarian squabbles.

Plus, Betty was very good at getting the less-than-stable folks on her side. Meetings would break into chaos as members of her little posse would scream "Point of Order, point of order!!!" as we endlessly debated useless by-laws rather than planning actions. Some of these guys were clearly mentally unbalanced, some others may themselves have been agents, I don't know. (There is a good history by Ward Churchill called the COINTELPRO Papers. This documents through FOIA files all the dirty tricks the FBI was up to up through the sixties. They don't just monitor folks, they actively create divisions and provoke arguments and even violence. It's all there in the public records. It should be mentioned that it was reported even by the mainstream press that these tricks continued throughout the eighties during the height of U.S. intervention in Central America. So, you can't blame it all on Hoover.)

Another man who came along was Larry Greenblatt. I mention his real name because he was always seeking publicity, so I'm sure he won't mind. At one point, he could be seen holding "Howard Stern for President" signs at various roadside locations. His first encounter with the Coalition, evidently, was while he was working with the Jewish Defense League, a very militant, very disruptive group that tried to break-up an early Coalition "teach-in." It was never clear what made this guy "change sides."

Larry Greenblatt was one of the oddest characters I ever met. He fancied himself as a budding comic (he was not at all funny) but he made a living as an accountant. He was a shady sort. He came to a couple of meetings and a party with a beautiful Russian woman in tow. How the hell, did this guy get her? On later reflection, I realized she was a freaking Russian prostitute! (But oh, those eyes.....I didn't really put together the prostitute thing until I'd written her a very stupid letter. Oh God, it may have even been a poem. I'm not proud of it, but this is a blog...I am REQUIRED BY LAW to be disarmingly honest.)

On another occassion he explained to me how much porn he had and that I could have some porn tapes if I wanted. He'd even give me a tv to watch them on. I declined. Can these people BE any more obvious?

There were other confrontations with Betty and Bobo, and the big showdown at the Coalition meeting. I remember the very self-righteous Socialist Workers' Party members decided we didn't like Betty and Bobo because they were genuine members of the working class. Gag me with a sickle and hammer. Please. Working class my ass, they were a couple of hustlers earning extra money for the (probably local) police. In fact, as the Coalition held elections for Committee Chairs and Betty ran for...wait for it...EVERY SEAT!..she circulated a resume that had little on it BUT her work with the police. As one activist put it upon reading her resume: "Well, when they come to round us all up, at least we won't be surprised."

Let me pause here and review, for the politically naive, the numerous red-flags that indicate a possible police/FBI connection of someone in an activist organization. You can play along at home and list them too, and then we can compare in the end. Oooh, what fun!

  • Working their way into committee functions that gave them access to money

  • Working their way into committee functions that gave them access to mailing lists

  • Attempting to gain as many positions of responsibility as possible

  • Keeping files on all leaders of the organization.

  • Actively disrupting meetings singly or with the help of mentally unbalanced proxies

  • Attempting to entrap members with offers to sell guns or drugs (Duh!)

  • Attempting (I assume...this part is about Larry) to entrap or in some other way entangle members with offers of free porno. (I hope that's what was going on there...I don't really want to think of other possibilities.)

  • Selling Coalition materials and having checks made out directly to themselves (that's more criminal than agent activity...but hey, they had to make a living, right? (Sorry, for you all playing at home...that example was not actually mentioned above.))

  • No political content to their participation in meetings. No real expression of any kind of concern or knowledge about the actual issues

  • And, of course, bragging about their past relationship with the police. Remember, I didn't say they were GOOD at being agents, just that they were agents.

We ran into all sorts of other shady characters that I may write about in a future installment including: Larouchians, hypersectarian ultra-leftists, agents posing as ultra-leftists (I can't tell those last two apart), FAMOUS FORMER GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS who now courageously denounce the government but surround themselves with hypersectarian ultra-leftists, insane people, insane people under the control of government agents, government agents posing as insane people. The list goes on and on. Hee Heeee, what fun we had.

But for those of you new to activism, or you who have forgotten your activist history, or even those of you whose politics didn't used to be considered that radical and threatening until the Patriot Act came along, take these lessons to heart. It's possible to deal with these government shenanigans...often they are no more than a nuisance. But go into it with your eyes open. And for God's sake, if someone in your group threatens to gouge your eyes out, offers to sell you guns, drugs or porn or keeps detailed files on everyone in your group...boot'em out. You don't have to prove they're agents, you just gotta point out that those sorts of activities really aren't welcome. And if your group won't get rid of these nefarious ne'er-do-wells...I'm afraid it's time for you to find some other folks to work with. One day, they'll find this blog...and then they'll understand.


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