Ramsey County authorities conducted raids across Minneapolis and St. Paul Friday and Saturday as a pre-emptive strike against disruptive protests of the Republican National Convention.
Five people were arrested and more than 100 were handcuffed, questioned and released by scores of deputies and police officers, according to police and elected officials familiar with the raids.
In a statement Saturday morning, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said the St. Paul raid targeted the RNC Welcoming Committee, a group he described as "a criminal enterprise made up of 35 self-described anarchists...intent on committing criminal acts before and during the Republican National Convention."
"These acts include tactics to blockade and disable delegate buses, breaching venue security and injuring police officers," Fletcher said. Deputies seized a variety of items that they believed were tools of civil disobedience: a gas mask, bolt cutters, axes, slingshots, homemade "caltrops" for disabling buses, even buckets of urine.
But the raids drew immediate condemnation from activists and St. Paul City Councilman Dave Thune, whose district includes the former theater at 627 Smith Avenue South, which was rented by activists as a gathering space.
"This is not the way to start things off," Thune said Saturday morning. "This is sending the wrong message. Regardless of how you feel about these people...they had a right to be there."
On Saturday afternoon, law agents surrounded 951 Iglehart Av. in St. Paul where members of I-Witness Video, a New York-based group that monitors police conduct during protests, were staying. They were detained and handcuffed but eventually freed without charges.
At a news conference Saturday, Cheri Honkala of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, one of the protest groups, described the Friday raid and an earlier one Thursday that evicted a demonstrators' camp on Harriet Island as "terrorism" intended to divert attention from issues the protest groups are raising and cast the news as police versus protestors.
Thune was especially critical of Fletcher for taking action within St. Paul city limits.
"I'm really ticked off...the city is perfectly capable of taking care of things," Thune said. "If they had found anything that could have been used to commit a crime they would have arrested somebody."