Are local anarchists planning to attack police officers in metro Phoenix and around the country on Halloween, as many news outlets have reported? Or has the entire scandal been fabricated?
The answer, it turns out, isn’t so clear.
The New York Post's Melkorka Licea was the first to report earlier this week that the central office of the FBI sent local law enforcement agencies around the country a warning that a national anarchist group was planning to attack police officers — including those in the Valley — on Halloween.
Citing an FBI alert, Licea wrote, “The extremist group — known as the National Liberation Militia — has proposed a ‘Halloween Revolt’ that encourages supporters to cause a disturbance to attract police and then viciously attack them.”
After her article was published, it was picked up by news outlets across the country, including Phoenix's ABC15 — “Several Valley departments told ABC15 they were either aware of the threat or had received a warning from the FBI specifically,” reporter Lauren Vargas wrote.
She spoke with Sergeant Ben Hoster of the Scottsdale PD, who confirmed that his department “got a notification a week or two ago from the FBI, letting us know that there is an anarchist group that would be out.”
When contacted by New Times, Hoster deferred to the local FBI office “since they issued the warning.”
A spokesman for the Phoenix PD, Sergeant Jonathan Howard, had a similar reaction: Call the FBI, he said.
Neither were willing to share a copy of the alert or detail what it said, but when they were pressed about the authenticity of the FBI internal press release, Howard wrote in an e-mail: “I can confirm that we were notified of possible events surrounding Halloween.”
The national FBI media office provided little clarity, telling New Times in an e-mail that “law enforcement bulletins are not for public dissemination.” (FBI Agent Joshua Campbell later said he could not even confirm the existence of the alert.)
Kurt Remus of the Phoenix FBI provided a bit more information, telling New Times that, yes, the national FBI press office sent “an alert about potential dangers with regards to anarchist group planning to ambush police officers.”
Remus said the alert warned of a “Halloween Revolt” in which “anarchists dressed in masks” would distract or otherwise lure officers to a particular location and then attack “with bricks, bottles, and firearms.”
He said it was “a nationwide alert that included a lot of locations,” but he declined to give any details, saying only that “it was based on raw intelligence” and that he “can’t go into why or how we believe this to be true.”
That being said, he added, “[The FBI] has reason to believe that there may be supporters of this movement in the Valley.”
Problem is, not many people believe the threat is real.
As news of the potential Halloween threat spread around the Internet, it garnered a mixed reaction.
Law and order folks lamented the myriad ways so-called domestic anarchist terrorists are ruining the country, while many others called bluff on the FBI’s warning.
“Not only is there no mention of this group on the FBI’s official website or no mention of the news on the FBI’s Facebook page, which they update frequently, there is no evidence anywhere this group even exists,” wrote Carlos Miller of PINAC, a national online media source for information about law enforcement news.
“No Facebook page. No YouTube channel. And no mention in any prior news stories. For an anarchist group with such a catchy yet contradictory name and such an ambitious yet imminent plan, you would think they would market themselves more effectively,” he writes.
"Either the New York Post is completely making the story up or one of their FBI sources is feeding them a bullshit tip knowing they would never question its authenticity. Or more likely, an NYPD source is feeding the tip to the Post, claiming it came from the feds."
Miller is correct in asserting that most large news outlets listed the Post as a source, something that should be a red flag to any journalist because the Post article doesn’t quote or even link to any human source or paper document.
New Times spoke with the Post's Licea, who said she got the alert from her editor and had no idea the story would blow up like it did. She assumed at the time that it was a typical media release sent to multiple outlets.
She declined to send New Times a copy of the release, noting that a colleague was worried about revealing a confidential source, but she did say she planned to post it online sometime today.
During a phone interview, Remus of the local FBI offered to pass on a copy of the alert, but then a little while later, he e-mailed to say he couldn’t find it.
“So far I can only find the [New York Post] article, I have engaged my national office to see if they can send me the link,” he wrote. (New Times followed up, but received no response.)
So is the threat credible? Is the group even real?
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Licea says she’s been contacted by multiple people alleging that the FBI warning is a fabricated threat to justify an increased law enforcement presence on Halloween and to drum up sympathy for officers.
“I don’t know much more about the group other than what’s been provided to our office, [which is that] the National Liberation Militia is known as a national extremist group,” Remus tells New Times.
“We wouldn’t put it out there if we couldn’t lend some credence to the threat [because] it’s a scary situation,” he says.
‘If you believe these people.”