Longform

Inside the Phoenix PD's Use of Federal Anti-Terrorism Resources to Track Valley Protesters

It's mid-October 2011, and Occupy Phoenix protesters sit in a city park, some with their arms locked, most chanting: "We are the 99 percent!"

They are part of a movement gaining momentum across the United States whose mission is to denounce corporate greed. Their civil disobedience also is intended to deride a government influenced by the same wealthy corporations it bails out of financial crises.

About 1,000 people from across the Valley gather on October 15 at Cesar Chavez Plaza in downtown Phoenix. The throng stays in the civic space until it closes early in the evening and cops usher people out. Several hundred protesters aren't ready to call it a night, though, and move to Margaret T. Hance Park.

Night falls, and this park closes, too.

A smaller number of protesters remain sitting on the lawn into early morning, October 16, even as police warn them to leave or face arrest for violating a city loitering ordinance. Several in the crowd shout that they are peacefully protesting as uniformed officers arrive en masse.

The confrontation with police is unnecessary.

Protest organizers had sought a permit to remain in the park through the night. Former state Senator Alfredo Gutierrez had put his political weight behind negotiating a deal between city officials and organizers.

There were reports that Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon would show up to support the rally, but neither he nor the permit materialize.

Instead, a menacing wall of officers wearing dark uniforms and gas masks and carrying protective shields close in on protesters. They grab those who refuse to stand up by their wrists, necks, and arms and drag them away.

City cops arrest 45 people, including Gutierrez, who served in the Arizona Senate for 12 years.


Phoenix Police Department officials who ordered officers to don riot gear and haul off those loitering in the park after hours claim they simply were maintaining law and order.

But their officers did more than make sporadic arrests to control various Occupy-related protests across the Valley, according to a report recently co-published by DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy.

DBA Press describes itself as an online publication reporting on private- and public-sector corruption, while the CMD states that it's an investigative-reporting group that "exposes corporate spin and government propaganda."

Freelance reporter and DBA Press publisher Beau Hodai's in-depth report "Dissent or Terror" details how law enforcement officials used the resources of the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center, its Terrorism Liaison officers, and an intelligence analyst to track and report on the movements of individuals affiliated, or believed to be affiliated, with the Occupy Phoenix movement.

And, the author reports, this information — obtained using these taxpayer-funded resources — promptly was shared with those whom Occupy organized to protest. Police officials passed along details to downtown Phoenix bank executives and the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that joins corporate executives and lobbyists with lawmakers to produce conservative "model" laws. For instance, ALEC created the framework for Arizona Senate Bill 1070, the state's draconian anti-immigrant law.

The PPD devoted significant time and resources to the probe, despite its officials noting that there was paltry participation in the local Occupy movement compared to movements in other U.S. cities.

"It's part of a surveillance state that's crept up on us, but is larger than people realize," Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, tells New Times. "We've seen this kind of monitoring . . . of political-protest activity . . . for decades."

Boghosian says the difference is that the Internet and social media have made it easier for local and federal law enforcement "to gather information on, and track with more sophistication, the activities of politically active individuals in the United States."

A behind-the-scenes look at the government's probing of Valley Occupy activists and protesters was a prelude to what has been referred to in recent weeks as "Orwellian" government tactics on several fronts.

Most recently, national outrage was sparked by revelations in the Washington Post and in London's Guardian newspaper that the National Security Agency and the FBI have collected personal data from nine major U.S. Internet firms — including Facebook, Google, and Apple — and from millions of records from major U.S. cell phone carriers.

The NSA debacle follows others, including the IRS' treatment of conservative Tea Party groups during the 2012 election. The Associated Press reported that about 75 groups were targeted inappropriately for additional reviews to ensure they weren't violating their tax-exempt statuses.

Another instance of government intrusion came on May 13, when the AP reported that the Department of Justice secretly obtained two months' worth of "telephone records of reporters and editors" that listed "outgoing calls for work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, for general AP office numbers in New York, Washington, and Hartford [Connecticut], and for the main number of the AP in the U.S. House of Representatives press gallery."

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo