Participants in a nonviolent Black Lives Matter protest at the Mall of America last December were not only aggressively confronted by law enforcement and heavily prosecuted by the Bloomington attorney's office, but they were also—as it turns out—preemptively spied on by local police and the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Journalist Lee Fang exposed the surveillance in an article published Thursday in The Intercept, shedding light on an internal email he obtained:
The email from David S. Langfellow, a St. Paul police officer and member of an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, informs a fellow task force member from the Bloomington police that "CHS just confirmed the MOA protest I was taking [sic.] to you about today, for the 20th of DEC @ 1400 hours." CHS is a law enforcement acronym for "confidential human source."
Jeffrey VanNest, an FBI special agent and Joint Terrorism Task Force supervisor at the FBI’s Minneapolis office, was CC'd on the email. The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces are based in 104 U.S. cities and are made up of approximately 4,000 federal, state and local law enforcement officials. The FBI characterizes them as "our nation’s front line on terrorism."
Fang went on to explain:
According to an FBI spokesman, Langfellow's Confidential Human Source was "a tipster with whom Mr. Langfellow is familiar" who contacted him "after the tipster had discovered some information while on Facebook" that "some individuals may engage in vandalism" at the Mall of America protest. Upon receiving the email, Bloomington police officer and task force member Benjamin Mansur forwarded it to Bloomington’s then-deputy police chief Rick Hart, adding "Looks like it’s going to be the 20th..." It was then forwarded to all Bloomington police command staff. There is no mention of potential vandalism anywhere in the email chain, and no vandalism occurred at the Mall of America protest.
The protest, which took place December 20, 2014, saw an estimated 3,000 people flood the Mall of America, one of the largest such shopping centers in the world, demanding an "end to police brutality and racial inequities affecting Black and brown Minnesotans," according to a statement from the Minneapolis chapter of Black Lives Matter.
Police, many of whom donned full riot gear, responded to the protest by shutting down several areas of the mall for hours. Twenty-five demonstrators were arrested.
Just days after the demonstration, Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson vowed to aggressively build a criminal case against alleged organizers, in a bid to win restitution for money allegedly lost by the mall during the partial shutdown, as well as by the police and city. Eleven protesters have been charged with six misdemeanors, and the city is seeking thousands of dollars.
Emails obtained by Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis through a public records request, and reported by the Star Tribune earlier this week, reveal that Bloomington attorneys colluded with mall officials—who pressed for stiff charges against the demonstrators.
The revelations that protesters were targeted on numerous fronts have not crushed organizing, but rather, have fueled ongoing resistance. According to Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis, over 4,000 people have joined the chapter's call to boycott the MOA, more than 40,000 have called for charges against the protesters to be dropped, and community members—from clergy to professors to local politicians—have vigorously defended the demonstrators.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis called Fang's newest revelations of police and FBI spying "disturbing," adding: "We will not be intimidated."