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State of Fear

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Posted on Jan 7, 2013
Illustration by Mr. Fish

By Chris Hedges

(Page 2)

“None of them identified themselves as law enforcement to meeting attendees, though a Homeland Security agent approached me afterward, probably because I facilitated the meeting,” McLeish said. “When the agent approached me after the meeting, it was pretty unnerving. I decided the best way to deal with it was head on. I responded with, ‘I’m so glad you’re here! There’s a group making threats against us. I assume that’s why you’ve come.’ I think he was surprised. I don’t think he acknowledged knowing about the threats from an online gun group. He said he wanted to make sure we weren’t infiltrated by troublemakers. He asked if we’d meet with law enforcement to find out what we were allowed to do. I said I’d be happy to do so. He said he would check into the threats. He said he would put me in touch with someone from the Daytona Beach Police Department.”

“I can’t remember exactly when we met with Daytona Beach Police Department the first time,” she said. “It could have been the next day or the day after. There were about six or seven of us, and I think it was three officers: Deputy Chief Ben Walton, who is now retired, and two other high-ranking officers. If I remember correctly, I pretty much began the discussion by stating that we were aware of our right to protest. We would be glad to coordinate as much as possible to make the Police Department’s job easier, but not to the point of infringing upon our rights.”

“We agreed upon very low police presence—one to a few officers—on the basis of the threats made by the online gun group, but not for surveillance on citizens engaged in peaceful protest,” she said.

The daylong event she and the other activists held on Oct. 15, 2011, was attended by more than 300 people. The past president of the local NAACP chapter spoke, as did a leader in the teachers union who was also a member of the school board, a couple of members of the postal union, the leader of a homeless coalition who was homeless himself, and a member of the Daytona State College Environmental Club. A female uniformed officer was present. McLeish noticed a man with a professional camera taking photographs of individual protesters in the crowd. She saw him later the same day amid several police officers. One officer confirmed that the photographer was with law enforcement but would not give more information, McLeish said. 

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Daytona-area activists during the fall of 2011 continued to organize events, including sidewalk marches to banks. In most cases they notified the police in advance. At one big event, men in plain clothes and standing with folded arms surrounded a seated group as it held a teach-in.

“It was extremely intimidating, not to mention the effect on people walking by who might have joined us if it weren’t for these heavy-handed tactics,” McLeish said.

The local activists set up an Occupy encampment every weekend in December 2011.

“There were no incidents of any kind,” McLeish said of the camp in Daytona. “No one spoke aggressively to an officer at any time. No one drank or used drugs. We had clearly posted rules to that effect at the camp. There was no violence whatsoever, verbal or physical—as was the case with any event we organized, and we had quite a lot of them. Further, we clearly expressed that while we would act in accordance with our rights, we would not violate any laws.”

“Given the lengths we went to, you can imagine my dismay as I saw Daytona repeatedly mentioned in national news as one of the main areas under surveillance by the FBI, Homeland Security, as well as some unknown ‘private partner’ agency,” she said. “We were being investigated, according to the released FBI documents, as if we were a ‘terrorist’ group engaged in ‘criminal activity.’ I checked the released pages to see what could only be references to me—my name, age, and phone number. Though redacted, they indicate that any search of people connected with domestic terrorist groups is likely to turn up my name.”

Since the spring of 2012 McLeish has co-hosted a morning radio show called “Air Occupy” (also streamed online) with Liz Myers and Jerry Bolkcom. They have interviewed, among others, Alexa O’Brien, the organizer of US Day of Rage, and Carl Mayer, the lead attorney in the case Hedges v. Obama, a challenge to the indefinite detention clause of the National Defense Authorization Act. Immediately after “Air Occupy” posted on YouTube the interview about the lawsuit against the NDAA, YouTube permanently banned the radio show on the ground of “violating community standards”—a ban that usually is imposed for graphic, violent or gory images or pornography. According to YouTube’s guidelines, a poster is allowed three “strikes” before an account is terminated. “Air Occupy” had received no notice of “strikes” or warnings of any kind from YouTube.

McLeish worries about how being a target of FBI attention will affect her life. “Can the inclusion of my name and information on a federal law enforcement domestic terrorist watch list impact my ability to make a living and provide for my children?” she asked. “Can I be subject to retribution of some kind through the NDAA’s new provisions or to federal surveillance due to interviewing other activists or in addition to my involvement in Occupy protests? I can’t afford an attorney to protect myself.”

“What does such surveillance and militarized response mean for our democratic system of governance as more and more people in our country and abroad struggle to survive and are moved to protest stark economic inequalities, mass unemployment and unfair working conditions, and impoverished living conditions?” she asked.


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